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Denise Costanzo
Assistant Professor
Portrait of Denise Costanzo
Department of Architecture
332 Stuckeman

Denise Costanzo is an assistant professor of theory and criticism. An architectural historian with a background in architecture and art history, she explores architecture’s conceptual and cultural dimensions in ways that integrate the distinct languages of design, art history, and critical inquiry.

Her research centers on the exchange of American and European architectural ideas, with a focus on how references to Italy reveal the mechanics of architectural power during the 20th century. Her scholarly methods include visual, textual, and systems analysis, social and institutional critique, and historiography.

She has delivered invited lectures at Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Naples, and presented her work at meetings in the United States, Canada, Italy, France, Belgium, and Turkey.

Costanzo’s first book, What Architecture Means: Connecting Ideas and Design (Routledge, 2016), is a thematic introduction to theory. Her publications include essays in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, the Journal of Architecture, and the Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, as well as books on the history of architecture education in North America, baroque historiography, Renaissance cultural history, and architecture in popular culture.

Her current book project, for which she was awarded a Rome Prize fellowship from the American Academy in Rome for 2014-15, is titled Eternal City, New Lessons: Modern Architects and the Postwar Rome Prize. This multi-national, cross-institutional study investigates the intersection and mutual transformation of modernism and academic tradition after the Second World War.


  • B.E.D
  • M.A.
  • Ph.D.

Courses Taught

  • ARCH 100 (Architecture and Ideas)
  • ARCH 210 (Introduction to Architecture and Planning Theories)
  • ARCH 311W (Architecture and Planning Theories)
  • ARCH 501 (Analysis of Architectural Precedents: Ancient to Industrial Revolution)
  • ARCH 502 (Analysis of Architectural Precedents: Modernism)
  • ARCH 511 (Theoretical Perspectives in Architecture)
  • ARCH 512A (Doctoral Research Theory)


  • Architectural history and theory, design education, sociology, and historiography, with emphasis on the effects of travel and the position of Italy in the disciplinary imagination. Recent projects include: the multinational Rome Prize in the 20th century; architecture at the post-World War II American Academy in Rome; the semiotics of elite housing in the Italian Renaissance and contemporary U.S.; the history of study travel in North American architectural education; authorship, monumentality, and George Howe's postwar career; Robert Venturi's early formation and relationship with Italy; the idea of "functionalism" in Venturi and Scott Brown's writing and built works; and modern architects' absorption of Italian design traditions as processed by Sigfried Giedion and Colin Rowe.
  • "Modern Architects and the Postwar Rome Prize," Individual Faculty Grant, Institute for the Arts and Humanities, Penn State, 2016.
  • "Eternal City, New Lessons: Architects at Modern Academies in Postwar Rome," Rome Prize Fellowship, American Academy in Rome, 2014-15.
  • "American Architects, Postwar Rome, and a Liberal Academy," Faculty Research Grant, College of Arts and Architecture, Penn State, 2013-2014.
  • "Rome with a View: Architects in the Eternal City," Astorino Fellowship, Stuckeman School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Penn State, 2010-2011.

Honors + Awards

  • Marian and Andrew Heiskell Post-Doctoral Rome Prize Fellowship in Modern Italian Studies, American Academy in Rome (2014-15)
  • Visiting Scholar, American Academy in Rome (Summer 2013)
  • Astorino Fellow, Stuckeman School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (2010-11)

Exhibitions + Presentations

  • “Fascist Rome in the Cold War: Architecture of the Pax Americana,” in Cold War Architecture, Society of Architectural Historians 71st Annual Conference, St. Paul, Minnesota, 18-22 April 2018.

  • “Building the Pax Americana: Postwar Architects, Rome and the Fascist Legacy” in Projecting Americanisms in Cold War Italy. American Academy in Rome. 27-28 February 2017.

  • “Pre-Post-Modern Rome: Robert Venturi and Complexity and Contradiction's Urban Roots,” in Beyond ‘Postmodern Urbanism’: Reconsidering the Forms and Politics of Twentieth-Century Urban Design, College Art Association 104th Annual Conference, Washington, D.C., 3-6 February 2016.

  • “Il Grand Tour moderno e gli americani in Italia: l’esperienza di Robert Venturi” (delivered in Italian), at Architetti Stranieri in Italia: l’evoluzione del Grand Tour tra Ottocento e Novecento, Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II, Naples, Italy, 29 May 2015.

  • “Modernism, Architecture and the Rome Prize’s Postwar Transformation,” in Rebooting Rome’s Postwar Academies. Workshop sponsored by the American Academy in Rome, Swedish Institute in Rome, and the British School at Rome, Rome, 18 May 2015.

  • “Modern Architects, National Academies and the Postwar Rome Prize,” presented to the Embassy of the United States of America in Italy, Villa Taverna, Rome, 8 April 2015.

  • “Americans at the Postwar École des Beaux-Arts”, co-presented with Emmanuel Schwartz, Head Curator, Archives de l’École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris, at “Ressourcer l’archive: L’exemple de l’art américain (1945-1980)”, Terra Foundation for American Art Colloquium, École national supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 2 April 2015.

  • “Reworking the Rome Prize: American, French, British and Spanish Architects at Postwar Academies,” American Academy in Rome, 12 November 2014.

  • "Eternal City to Open City: Rome's Postwar Academies as Architecture's First Global Programs," in From Study Abroad to Global Programs: Beyond the Grand Tour, Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture 102nd Annual Meeting, Miami Beach, Florida, 10-12 April 2014.

  • “The Palazzo Soprano, or: McMansion as Threat,” in Archi-Pop, Society of Architectural Historians 66th Annual Meeting, Buffalo, New York, 10-14 April 2013.

  • “Redefining Rome’s Lessons: Architects at the American Academy,” Architecture Education Goes Outside Itself: Crossing Borders, Breaking Boundaries, Department of Architecture, PennDesign, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 8-9 February 2013.

  • “Revisiting the Caput Mundi: Venturi’s Letters from Rome,” in Narratives of Travel Writing and Architectural History, NOMAD Seminar, Middle Eastern Technical University, Ankara, Turkey, 8-9 November 2012.

  • “Baroque in Translation: Giedion’s History for Modern Architects,” in Postwar Instrumentalization of the Baroque in Europe and North America, 2nd Annual Meeting of the European Architectural History Association, Brussels, Belgium, 31 May-3 June 2012.

  • “Giedion as Guide: Space, Time and Architecture and the Modernist Reception of Baroque Rome,” Invited symposium participant: The Baroque in Architectural Culture, 1880-1980, Academia Belgica, Rome, Italy, 20-22 February 2012.

  • “A Modernist Academy: Rome, American Architects, and a Redefined Mission,” Invited talk, American Academy in Rome, Rome, Italy, 24 February 2011.

  • “Rome, Philadelphians, and the Architectural Revival of the Postwar American Academy,” Invited talk, Philadelphia Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians, Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, November 3, 2009.

  • “Travel, Architects, and the Postwar ‘Grand Tour’” at “Constructing Identities,” the Graduate Union of the Students of Art Conference, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, January 17-18, 2008.

  • “The American Academy Renewed: Rome, Modernism, and U.S. Architects, 1947-1950,” 2007 Dissertation Colloquium, Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture, Columbia University, New York, NY, April 20-21, 2007.

  • “Rome as Architectural Mirror of American Postwar Modernism,” Middle Atlantic Symposium on the History of Art, Washington, D.C., March 31-April 1, 2006.


Books/Book Chapters
  • What Architecture Means: Connecting Ideas and Design (New York: Routledge, 2016; Chinese edition, 2017)
  • “Giedion as Guide: Space, Time and Architecture and the Modernist Reception of Baroque Rome,” in The Baroque in Architectural Culture, 1880-1980, ed. Andrew Leach, John MacArthur, and Maarten Delbeke (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015).
  • “The Palazzo Soprano,” in Archi.Pop: Mediating Architecture in Popular Culture, ed. D. Medina Lasansky (London: Bloomsbury, 2014).
  • “The Medici McMansion?” in The Renaissance: Revised, Unexpurgated, Expanded, ed. D. Medina Lasansky (Pittsburgh: Periscope Press, 2015).
  • “Tours, Trips and Foreign Study: Instructive Displacements” in Architecture School: Three Centuries of Educating Architects in North America, ed. Joan Ockman. ACSA Centennial publication. (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2012).
Key Publications
  • “Learning from Venturi: ‘Complexity and Contradiction at 50,’ in arq: Architectural Research Quarterly 20, 4 (December 2016): 293-296.
  • “‘I Will Try My Best to Make It Worth It’: Robert Venturi’s Road to Rome” Journal of Architectural Education 70, 2 (October 2016): 88-102.
  • “‘A Truly Liberal Orientation’: Laurance Roberts, Modern Architecture, and the Postwar American Academy in Rome,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 74, 2 (June 2015): 223-247.
  • Review of Paolo Scrivano, Building Transatlantic Italy: Architectural Dialogues with Postwar America (Ashgate: 2014), Planning Perspectives (8 April 2015).
  • “Text, Lies and Architecture: Colin Rowe, Robert Venturi and Mannerism,” Journal of Architecture 18, no. 4 (August 2013): 455-473.
  • “Architectural Amnesia: George Howe, Mario De Renzi, and the U.S. Consulate in Naples,” Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 56-57 (2012): 353-389.
  • “Venturi and Scott Brown as Functionalists: Venustas and the Decorated Shed,” Wolkenkuckucksheim—Cloud Cuckoo-Land: International Journal of Architectural Theory 17, no 1 (2012): 9-25. Special issue on “Function – Purpose – Use in Architecture and Urbanism.”
  • “Travel, Architects, and the Postwar ‘Grand Tour,’ University of Toronto Art Journal (2008) (


  • Ph.D. Committee
  • Graduate Affairs Committee
  • Stuckeman Council
  • General Education Committee, College of Arts and Architecture
  • Faculty Council, College of Arts and Architecture
  • Alumni Society Board, College of Arts and Architecture

CV + Files + Links

PDF icon CV

Book cover with black background and greyscale architectural photographs
Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians cover featuring photo from Denise Costanzo
photo of Denise Costanzo's work
photo of Denise Costanzo's work
photo of Denise Costanzo's work
photo of Denise Costanzo's work
photo of Denise Costanzo's work