Rubin Rome Prize Winner
Partner David Rubin has earned the prestigious Rome Prize for Landscape Architecture from the American Academy in Rome.
Each year, through a national competition, the Rome Prize is awarded to 30 individuals who represent the highest standard of excellence in the arts and humanities. Prize recipients are invited to stay in Rome from six months to two years to immerse themselves in the Academy community where they have the opportunity to expand their own professional, artistic or scholarly pursuits.
While at the Academy, Rubin will study the Guidonia Quarry, a working marble quarry outside of Rome, identifying opportunities to transform the denuded site into an ecologically and socially vital place. Here David explains his interests and experience with post-quarry landscapes, the importance of design that gives back to ecology and community, and how he plans to adjust to a more Zen lifestyle while in Rome.
Ben (OLIN Blogger): What made you interested in the Rome Prize?
David: I’ve known about the Rome Prize since I was an art student in my undergrad years; posters were hung on the wall to apply, and it was this lofty goal that was always visible throughout my education. I wasn’t sure if I was a suitable candidate when I applied last year, but I recognized that Laurie Olin was a Rome Prize recipient himself in 1973 and has had an affiliation with the Academy ever since. So, I thought, as our studio continues to develop and grow, it was an appropriate goal to set for myself. This prize should be recognized by every generation at OLIN.
Ben: In reviewing the way the Rome Prize functions, I was struck by its almost monastic quality.
David: This is really what the prize is all about—the gift of time. You are given an experience that is wholly disengaged from your professional life, as the Academy insists that you are not to participate in work affiliated with your business while you are there. They want you to immerse yourself into the experience of the Academy as a meditative experience.
Ben: Well it sounds like you’re going to be deadline-less for the first time in a while! Will that change your process?
David: Not having deadlines is a big fear of mine! I thrive when I am very busy – too busy. Being at the Academy will be a significant change for me. In that respect, this is actually an incredibly frightening opportunity but I mean that in the best possible way!
Ben: So is this your landscape architecture mid-life crisis?
David: (Laughs) I don’t know if it’s a crisis! It’s an event!
Ben: I’d love to hear about the site you will be studying while in Rome – the Guidonia Quarry.
David: In applying for the Rome Prize I began to think that one of the interesting aspects of Rome is that most of its significant monuments are made out of marble. These ruins are a part of the vocabulary of Rome, so I became curious about where that stone comes from.
I also have experience working with quarries. OLIN Associate Richard Roark and I worked together on a site that was an industrial limestone quarry in Texas. We developed a design to refurbish that landscape from one based on extraction to one that was reconstituted and could give back to the ecology of the site.
The Guidonia Quarry is very close to Rome, still functioning, and actually owned by a collective of artisans. The community revolves around this act of extraction. I wish to explore how I could work with this collective to rejuvenate the land in a more productive way for its community—not in an extractive sense but in an ecological and social sense.
Ben: In reading your proposal for the Guidonia Quarry, I saw you brought up some interesting points about quarries in general. In essence they are really artificial landscapes—they’re not like farms where you get rid of the plants but keep the dirt—quarries are really the bones of the earth. You have written that “post mine landscapes are similar to any urban environment because of the level of environmental degradation.” As someone who works on many degraded urban sites, how do you plan to apply your knowledge of the urban condition to this rural environment in Rome?
David: Oftentimes in urban conditions, the life of soils and the earth have been so modified as to be non-functional, and our studio has become experienced with the rejuvenation of that type of landscape, including design and construction over top of built form.
Ben: Like the meadows OLIN designed for the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City?
David: Yes. One can think of the floors and levels of quarries as rooftops with similar needs to reconstitute or refurbish living soil so that vegetation might take hold again. Or that we may need to modify the floor so that drainage can adequately take place. In principle then, many of the same solutions to those urban issues can be applied to the landscape here.
Ben: Can you talk more about the Texas quarry project and how it shaped your ability to work with these degraded landscapes?
David: The project in Texas is a 600-acre limestone quarry that belonged to a private owner who wanted to leave the landscape in much better condition for his children who might own the company in the future. Our efforts were to create and/or reconstitute soil on what was a denuded landscape. It was literally only limestone with no plant life other than a few opportunistic non-native plant species.
The notion was to provide viable soil and drainage and allow for natural systems on the site to once again function—improving stormwater filtration, percolation, plant growth and productivity, air quality and more.
Ben: Do you think you’ll face similar circumstances at Guidonia Quarry?
David: Yes I expect that. I am hopeful that the project will provide something special for the Academy and the citizens who surround this quarry. As we are visitors to the Academy and guests of Rome, we should leave a project behind which benefits the Italian people.
Just as stone that was quarried from a site leaves its mark, so too should the reconstitution of this place mark its surrounding community. The intent is to create a landscape that is socially, environmentally, and economically productive beyond its original state and purpose. I think that’s extraordinarily beautiful and cyclical. It’s really endless in its possibilities.