Landscape architecture alumnus thrives in Italy

Rio Perdido, Guanacaste Costa Rica 2011-2013, Thermal pool pool experience at night. Construction utilizes local materials and methods, reinforcing the sense of place. Credit: VIDAAll Rights Reserved.

Since graduating from Penn State, Philip Adiutori (Class of 2002, bachelor of landscape architecture) has been working as a landscape architect and planner on a variety of international projects ranging from civic design to luxury hospitality and resort planning. He is currently the design director and partner of VIDA Landscape Architects + Planners in Florence, Italy.

First moving to Los Angeles after graduation, Adiutori worked his way up to senior associate with the landscape architecture and planning firm EDSA, even managing the design and construction of a rural hospitality project for the Ferragamo family near Montalcino, Italy, called Castiglion del Bosco. Recognizing the potential for an American-style landscape architecture practice in Italy, he eventually moved to Italy permanently in 2009 to start an office. In 2010, two friends who manage the San Jose Costa Rica office for VIDA, invited him to join them at VIDA and in fall of 2010, incorporated the VIDA studio in Florence.

Adiutori spoke about his experiences as a landscape architect and his memories of Penn State:

Q: How would you explain your design sensibility?

PA: I strive to create practical designs that work with natural systems and have room to evolve, while never losing site of the importance of aesthetics and the role of art in our craft.     

Q: How would you describe what you do at VIDA Landscape Architects + Planners?

PA: I suppose the easiest way to describe our job is that we are landscape architects and architects who work with our clients and interdisciplinary teams to vision and construct beautiful places to live. Whether a public space or private estate, urban or wild, we believe in the human potential to work at making our environments better than how we found them.

As a partner and design director in the Florence, Italy, studio of VIDA, I am primarily charged with overseeing our work in Europe and the Mediterranean basin, but we occasionally get involved with projects further abroad – even a recent project in my hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania. 

Q: What led you to work in Europe?

PA: I suppose the Penn State fourth-year landscape architecture study abroad program (Sede di Roma) had a lot to do with why I’m currently in Europe. 

I was flipping through my sketchbook from that spring semester in Rome and am reminded at how taken I was by the materiality of the built environment here in Europe. All that hand-carved stone, towering domes, intricate ironwork and rivers of tiny medieval streets emptying into giant, market-filled piazzas bursting with life struck me as a fantastic place to spend more time to look around, learn some rare crafts, draw … and of course, eat. 

During that semester, on a field trip driving through a countryside near Pienza in Tuscany, I remember talking with a friend about how great it would be to spend some time working on a project in that vineyard-filled landscape. Three years later, while working at the Santa Monica, California, office of EDSA, I was managing the master planning of a 4,000-acre Brunello wine estate called Castiglion del Bosco, a 30-minute drive south of Siena. (

Eventually I would move to Italy to help oversee construction and haven’t left. In 2007, I resigned from EDSA. In 2010, we opened the VIDA studio here in Florence and have been growing our practice on this side of the world to complement the great work my partners (Ana Pinto and Matthew Flynn) are doing with their team in the San Jose, Costa Rica, studio where VIDA began. 

Q: How is working in Europe different than working in the United States?

PA: So far, I have spent half of my professional career in the United States and half in Europe, and can say that both places have their pros and cons. Generally speaking, running a small business in Italy is more complicated. There is more bureaucracy to deal with here, and the role of landscape architects is often poorly understood. It can be extremely frustrating and a serious challenge. Sometimes I joke that if you can operate a successful business in Italy, I think you can do it anywhere in the world. As a profession, landscape architects have more respect, as well as more responsibility, in the United States than in Italy. 

In Italy, the engineers and architects are typically responsible for much of the scope of work that is under the umbrella of a landscape architect practicing in the states. This “gap” is turning out to be an opportunity for VIDA, as more and more of our clients learn what it really is that we do and the value-add that we bring to their projects both here in Italy and abroad.  

Beyond the bureaucratic issues, working in Italy has been an extremely rewarding experience for me. Every day I am amazed at what the artisans and craftsmen continue to produce in this country. The “Made in Italy” mark has true value, and our studio strives to utilize and experiment with those skills and know-how on a wide variety of projects as a way to deliver “hand-crafted” spaces for our clients and communities. There is a tremendous amount of design talent in Italy that has proven to be a constant source of inspiration for us, and I believe the Italians in general are one of the most creative populations on our planet. 

Q: Why do you think study abroad is an important aspect of the landscape architecture curriculum?

PA: For the landscape architecture and architecture curriculums I believe that study abroad in Europe is an extremely valuable way to explore how urban scale impacts society. Being able to explore and compare spaces that date to Roman and Medieval times with those of modern, post-WWII development is an important resource for any landscape architecture curriculum. The Sede di Roma program at Penn State was a big draw for me when I was looking at university programs and a major factor toward why I eventually enrolled. 

Generally speaking, the world is a complicated place, and I believe the only way to understand it a little better is through travel and immersing ourselves into other cultures and their history (design included). Emersion takes time however. It’s difficult to learn much from a seven-day whirlwind backpacking trip through a foreign land. Spending at least a semester studying abroad is probably one of the most intelligent things a university student can do. And if you are able to pick up a new language (or four) as well, then you will not only be able to communicate with and exchange ideas with the people you meet, you will also be honing an extremely valuable skill set that future employers or clients value. Besides high quality portfolios, being well traveled, and knowing more than one language may be the difference between landing a future job. 

Q: What is your advice for current students?

PA: Never forget how to draw and keep a sketchbook to complement all the digital work. We recently gave a lecture here in Florence to a group of university students on the ways we use drawing in our everyday practice at VIDA. Without getting into the details, drawing is important. Making a hand drawing to explain an idea to your client quickly and clearly is valuable. Using drawing as a way of thinking during the design process is an intricate part of our process. If anyone is interested in learning more about why drawing is still relevant I urge you to have a quick read of an essay by James Wines (professor in the Department of Architecture at Penn State). 

Q:  What is your favorite memory of your time at Penn State?

PA: Hmm … difficult question … We all know that State College is a very fun place during the most intense fall and spring semesters. I really enjoyed the winter season and traveling with the Penn State snowboard club any weekend we could get away to the mountains of Vermont or spending Saturday mornings at our place on South Burroughs street drinking coffee and laughing with friends about events of the night before. 

I had a blast at Penn State for many reasons, but there was one summer that a group of friends and I decided to stay in State College that was particularly great. That summer gave me a chance to see what life is like in State College with a much smaller population and fewer academic commitments. I took the opportunity to enroll in a summer photography course and spent time working for the artist Stacy Levy. My group of friends made Monday nights the “big” night to go out instead of Friday or Saturday and arranged our schedules to accommodate it. We used the summer to live in State College in a different way, and I would recommend anyone to give it a try. 

Q:  Could you describe the most rewarding project that you’ve worked on in your career? And why was it so rewarding?

PA: At VIDA we are working on a variety of projects that are rewarding for different reasons. In some instances, our clients have significant resources to invest in their projects resulting in ample design and construction budgets that often give us significant creative freedom. Another rewarding aspect is that many of our projects in both the Italian and Costa Rican studios are focused on protecting rural or ecologically sensitive landscapes while helping our clients develop new ways to add value to their land. 

For me personally, however, one of the most rewarding projects that I’ve been involved in is the master planning and visioning work we’ve been doing for a nonprofit arts and wellness campus in my hometown of Erie, Pa., called The Bloom Collaborative (previously Center City Arts). A project that provides a unique and pressure-free arts and wellness experience open to those who have recovered, or are recovering, from a mental illness and those who assist them in that journey. VIDA has been working with our client and community stakeholders to develop a long-term master plan for the campus, filled with visionary programs that would be a first for the region. Both the Italian and Costa Rican studios have been involved in this project from the start, and by matching our design fees with additional pro-bono work, we are invested in helping our clients, donors and the community to ensure the successful realization of this ambitious project vision one step at a time. 

To view a photo gallery of recent VIDA projects, visit

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