‘. . . it is of the greatest importance that a student should be able by prolonged study in the atmosphere of a great art centre, to gain a thorough knowledge of the principles underlying the work of the great masters, and by that means prepare himself for original work in the domain of art he has chosen.’ The Commissioners for the 1851 Exhibition, 1911
‘Rome is the damnation of the half-educated. To send architectural students to Rome is to cripple them for life.’ Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture 1923, trans. 1927
The Rome prize for architecture was established in 1912 as the last stage of a recent and systematic reform of British architectural education. It was supported by those who felt that British architecture reflected the individualism and haphazard character of articled pupillage, and hoped to correct these tendencies by providing, as an alternative, full-time training leading to a professional qualification. The prize was visualized as the finale to the new system of architectural education, the summit of a ‘ladder of prizes’ for design which led from the Tite Prize to the Soane Medallion and Victory Scholarship and culminated in the Rome Scholarship. The first Faculty of Architecture of the British School at Rome contained advocates of the new architectural education, and at first constituted a lively forum for discussing the purpose and direction of architectural training as well as of the Rome prize itself. But a considerable gulf soon developed between the Faculty and progressive ideas on architecture and its teaching. Within a decade of its creation, the Faculty began to use the Rome scholarship not simply to encourage systematic working methods, clarity of planning and good draughtsmanship but actually to discourage what it termed ‘modern tendencies’. The scholarship gradually lost its status as the apex of progressive architectural education and by the 1930s came to be regarded as highly reactionary. Since then, writers have tended to use the Rome scholarship as an indication of the backwardness of twentieth-century British architecture, contrasting the late establishment of the prize with the reaction against academic training which transformed inter-war European architecture. More recently, it has been suggested that the dwindling prestige accorded the Rome prize in the inter-war years represented merely a temporary set-back for the otherwise triumphant progress of the classical tradition in British architecture from the seventeenth century to the present day.