Urban Design Project in Rome Brings Insights and Recognition

Garrett Stone with design teammates
Sunday, April 29, 2012

Garrett Stone ’12 (landscape architecture) spent three years as an owner and operator of a small café in Cambridge, Massachusetts with his father before enrolling at UMass Amherst. Admitting that he “kind of fell into the food service industry,” Stone discovered landscape architecture one day walking through the student design gallery at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Stone recalls a variety of student design work being displayed, including landscape architecture projects,” he says. “That’s when it struck me. We have the ability to manipulate the landscape in intelligent and creative ways to create a piece of immersive art designed to support and influence ecological and social processes.

“I’ve always had an appreciation for the outdoors,” says Stone. “Especially the way the landscape influences our emotions; the way a mountain range can fill us with awe; the way a valley can make us feel cozy and safe; and the way the ocean offers a sense of relief.”

After his epiphany, Stone refused to ignore his newfound passion, so he began researching schools. “I chose UMass [because of] its affordable rate and location,” says the foodie-turned-landscape-artist. “I love the New England landscape and climate.”

Stone knew, however, that to be among the best landscape architects he would have to expand his horizons beyond New England. He chose to take advantage of a study abroad opportunity at the Pantheon Institute in Rome, where the curriculum aligns perfectly with the Landscape Architecture program at UMass. In addition, he knew that in Rome he could experience the beauty of Europe's architecture and landscape while gaining an understanding of urban development over time.

Going to Rome, however, would not have been possible without the financial support of the Ansin Study Abroad Fellowship from the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Stone says. Since its inception in 1999, the Ansin Fellowship has provided scholarships to more than 250 individuals.“As an independent student paying my own way, the fellowship was crucial to my study abroad experience,” says Stone.

It’s safe to say that the nontraditional senior made the most of his experience in Rome, where the theory of urban infrastructure – made famous by the Romans – helped lay the foundation of our understanding of contemporary cities. Participating in a design project as part of his studies at the Pantheon Institute, Stone advanced to the semi-finals in the Aturbain Design competition. His team won the “People’s Choice Award.” View the design [pdf] in English.

“My teammates, Rachel Fawcett (Penn State), Joe Colarusso (Carnegie Mellon) and I created a master plan for [a Catholic pilgrimage route] between the Spanish Steps and the Tiber River,” Stone says. The plan called for the team to redesign the Via Trinitatis, a forgotten path leading towards St. Peter’s Basilica.

“The path had been composed of the Tiber, surrounding urban fabric, and commerce he says. “We proposed to reestablish this path by weaving together these components while integrating verticality and density as a remedy to urban sprawl.” Stone outlined three essential design components that offered the inspiration for the project:

Respect for the Environment
“Trees from along the Tiber bring an identity to the [path] as they continue into plazas; they introduce biodiversity, provide shading to pedestrians, and act as a signal to designate the path,” he says.

Architectural Quality
“The revitalization of the structures along the path promotes urban density,” Stone says. “While creating sunken plazas with vegetation, a pedestrian to vehicular hierarchy is established.”

Quality of Social Life
A secondary circulation route interlaces the path and the unique neighborhoods through development of commercial and assembly areas,” he says of the design idea. “With the creation of pedestrian connections to the Tiber through the floodwall, the Via Trinitatis is again composed of the Tiber, surrounding urban fabric, and commerce.”

Stone hopes to commingle his understanding of historical cities through time with direct experience from studying in Rome to speak with first-hand experience to future clients. He dreams of working in residential or mid-scale public design, such as city parks and open spaces, maybe even the National Park Service. “Landscapes mean something different for everyone, but I think we can all agree that the capacity for a landscape to move us emotionally is very real,” Stone says.

He believes his experience at UMass was made easier by the small class sizes within his major. That helped Stone foster personal and career-focused growth. “Community events are developed within the department by its faculty and students, offering students the opportunity to hone their design and community action skills,” he says.

Stone urges fellow students to look beyond the University’s fading reputation as a party school and focus on the impressive curriculum it boasts. “UMass’ social scene is as diverse as its curriculum. There’s a place for everyone here.”

Tyler Manoukian '13 (journalism) is a communication intern in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Dean's Office.