Skip To Main Content
Penn State College of Arts and Architecture
Penn State College of Arts and Architecture
Select where to search:

Denise Costanzo

Associate Professor of Architecture
Denise Costanzo's head shot.

Denise Costanzo is an associate 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, University of Pennsylvania, American Academy in Rome, and the University of Naples, and presented her work at meetings in the United States, Canada, Italy, France, Belgium, Australia, and Turkey.

Costanzo is the co-editor (with Andrew Leach) of Italian Imprints on Twentieth Century Architecture (Bloomsbury, 2022). Her 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, arq: Architectural Research Quarterly, Journal of Architecture, and the Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, as well as books on the afterlife of Italian fascist architecture, the history of architecture education in North America, baroque historiography, Renaissance cultural history, and architecture in popular culture.

Her most recent book project, for which she was awarded a Rome Prize fellowship from the American Academy in Rome for 2014-15, is titled Modern Architects and the Problem of the Postwar Rome Prize: France, Spain, Britain, and America, 1946-1960. This multi-national, cross-institutional study investigates the intersection and mutual transformation of modernism and academic tradition after the World War II.

  • Education
    • B.ED.
    • M.A.
    • Ph.D.
  • Courses Taught
    • Architecture and Ideas
    • Introduction to Architecture and Planning Theories
    • Architecture and Planning Theories
    • Analysis of Architectural Precedents: Ancient to Industrial Revolution
    • Analysis of Architectural Precedents: Modernism
    • Theoretical Perspectives in Architecture
    • Doctoral Research Theory
  • Honors + Awards


    • Marian and Andrew Heiskell Post-Doctoral Rome Prize Fellowship in Modern Italian Studies, American Academy in Rome


    • Visiting Scholar, American Academy in Rome (Summer)


    • Astorino Fellow, Stuckeman School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture
  • Publications + Presentations



    • Italian Imprints in Twentieth-Century Architecture, edited with Andrew Leach (Bloomsbury, 2022)


    • “Horrors and Heroes, Renaissance and Recent: Rome as Architecture School,” in Visualizing the Past in Italian Renaissance Art: Essays in Honor of Brian A. Curran, ed. D. Dow and J. Cochran Anderson (Brill, 2021).
    • “Behind the Formalist Façade: Complexity and Contradiction’s Urban Roots,” in: Digital Draw Connections, ed. Fabio Bianconi and Marco Filippucci (Springer Nature, 2021).


    • “The Lessons of Fascist Rome: Venturi, Lincoln Center, and 1960s Formalism,” in The Routledge Companion Guide to Fascist Italian Architecture: Reception and Legacy, ed. K. B. Jones and S. Pilat (Routledge, 2020).


    • “Robert Venturi, 1925-2018,” arq: Architectural Research Quarterly, vol. 22, 4 (December 2018), 284-289.


    • “Building the Pax Americana: Postwar Architects, Rome, and the Fascist Legacy,” Italian Quarterly 54 (2019), 36-53.


    • What Architecture Means: Connecting Ideas and Design (New York: Routledge, 2016; Chinese edition, 2017)
    • “Learning from Venturi: ‘Complexity and Contradiction at 50,’ in arq: Architectural Research Quarterly 20, 4 (December): 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): 88–102.



    • “Cui bono? Indagini sul rapporto con l’Italia di Venturi,” Robert Venturi e l’Italia: Educazione, viaggi e primi progetti, PhD in Architecture Seminar and Book Presentation, Dipartimento di Architettura, Università di Napoli ‘Federico II’.
    • Un ponte per Roma, rifatto: l’American Academy dopo la Guerra. Made in Italy and the Transatlantic Transfer seminar, Invited Presenter, Politecnico di Milano.


    • “What’s Mannerism Got to Do with It? Colin Rowe, Robert Venturi, and Architectures of Ambivalence,” Invited speaker, Indagine sul Manierismo/Investigation on Mannerism, University of Pisa (remote format).
    • “Formalism, Fascism, and American Architecture at Mid-Century.” Made in Italy and the Transatlantic Transfer: Architecture, Design and Planning, 1955-1972, Politecnico di Milano (remote format).


    • “Too Close to Home: Critical Distance and Venturi’s Columbus Monument,” in Distance Looks Back, EAHN/SAHANZ Conference, University of Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning.
    • “Making a Modernist Academy: Laurance Roberts and the Postwar Battle for Architectural Relevance,” in The American Academy as Mirror of Cultural Change: 125 Years of Arts and Humanities in the Eternal City, American Academy in Rome, Rome, Italy.


    • “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.


    • “Building the Pax Americana: Postwar Architects, Rome and the Fascist Legacy” in Projecting Americanisms in Cold War Italy. American Academy in Rome.
  • Service + Affiliations
    • General Education Committee, College of Arts and Architecture
    • University Faculty Senate (Committee on Faculty Benefits)