Fellows in Focus: Lauren Stimson

Color photo of a light skinned woman in an artist studio with three large plants or trees in the room
Lauren Stimson in her Academy studio (photograph by Claudia Gori)
Color photo of a light skinned woman in an artist studio, sitting at a work table and painting sheets of paper
Lauren Stimson in her Academy studio (photograph by Claudia Gori)

Lauren Stimson is the 2024 Gilmore D. Clark and Michael I. Rapuano/Kate Lancaster Brewster Rome Prize Fellow. She is a partner at STIMSON, a landscape architecture studio based in Princeton and Cambridge, Massachusetts. While in Rome she is working on Seeing Rural: Embracing Art, Craft, and Slowness in the Italian Landscape.

Her work explores forgotten histories, horticultural spontaneity, and ultimately emotional response to landscape experience. Recent projects include the Comprehensive Plan at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, the Artists’ Trail at the Florence Griswold Museum, Phil Hardberger Park, and the Lyceum and Student Center at Amherst College. Her work is deeply informed by Charbrook, the farm studio that has become the landscape laboratory for her practice. STIMSON was recognized in 2021 with the Firm Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects.

AAR spoke to Stimson about her Rome Prize Fellowship.

What have you been working on while at AAR? Has your project changed since arriving?

I am a landscape architect and work on projects of various scales and contexts, from parks and university campuses to agrarian landscapes and intimate gardens. My work always begins with a sketch, but quickly moves into the computer and technical drawings. I am here to reconnect with the art and craft aspect of my design process that has become a bit buried in this age of technology within my practice. I had planned to document the rural landscape through various media, to free myself from the measured drawings I am used to producing. I am sketching and painting now and am already feeling a deep exhale. At home, I live in a remote area on a farm with my family, and the farm undeniably informs the way I think about design. I initially thought I would spend my time here traveling to far-off, agricultural regions for my project. As it turns out, I have found wildness in Roma, in the most unexpected places. So, I am always looking for the untamed side of her personality, and it is her horticultural spontaneity that has inspired me to document the city. I am especially fascinated by her edges, where the urban texture overlaps with the ancient campagna. This has been a complete shift in my expectations of living and working here; I did not think Roma would give me a sense of the rural and the wildness that I had being searching for.

What’s something that has surprised you about being at the Academy?

I appreciate being able to walk down the hall and knock on a door of another person’s studio, to talk to them about their own work and learn something new that enriches my process—or have a candid conversation at lunch with someone from a completely unrelated discipline that ends up resonating with me unexpectedly. I love how there are new people here every week, yet it feels like a tight community because we eat together and essentially live together (especially at 5B where it is one big mish mash of everyone’s children). I underestimated the significance of putting all these people together from varied disciplines and the inevitable sharing of thoughts and ideas that are already unfolding. At home, I am in my own world, and even the consultants I work with daily are all from related fields. The diversity of thought here is so revelatory and mind opening for me.

What have you seen in the city of Rome that has made a strong impression on you?

There are so many new sights, sounds and smells…. The church bells that ring on and on and on. At noon, a cannon goes off at the Gianicolo and if the wind is up, I can even feel the boom in my gut as I work in my studio on the fourth floor. The smell of the prosciutto and cheeses at the market at the bottom of the steps on Saturday morning. The way people in Villa Doria Pamphilj call their dogs with repeated kisses when they stray too far. The coldest water that comes out of the drinking fountains. How the sfogliatella pastry crumbles into a thousand flakes on your shirt when you take that first bite! The fishmonger down in Monteverde who wraps my prawns like a little gift in white paper…. My favorite thing by far has been bicycling down the via Appia Antica, into the Parco della Caffarella to the old farm where we buy sheep’s milk ricotta made that same morning. I like to say I am eating my way through Roma.

When we first saw the Tiber as a family, my five-year-old son said “mama, I feel sad, this river has lost her trees” and I admit, the high walls of the Tiber down at Trastevere and the lack of plant life along the banks really moved me. But, as the days and weeks went on, I have pushed myself to embrace the city, in her varied states of existence, and have found these unexpected moments and a new sense of liberation—not just in the landscape but in the way I am experiencing life here.

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