Ersela Kripa and Stephen Mueller of Agency Architecture

It would be wrong to think that 2010 Rome Prize winners Ersela Kripa, 32, and Stephen Mueller, 30, have spent their time at the American Academy in Rome holed up on the historic grounds of the Villa Aurelia. Hoping to use architecture to address humanitarian and economic crises, they took their studies to the streets. Kripa and Mueller, partners in New York–based Agency Architecture, are investigating the marginal and informal settlements that are booming around the city’s urban edge.

The grandpappy of emerging-architect programs, the American Academy is celebrating its centennial this year. The Rome Prize, the academy’s most prestigious honor, supports the interdisciplinary research of architects, artists, writers, and scholars. During its residency, which runs through this month, Agency is reaching out to local architects, community advocates, city officials, and urban planners with the hope of developing participatory design strategies to help those most in need. “We’ve moved away from a tradition of architect-as-master-builder, and it’s becoming difficult to sustain the current paradigm of architect as a coordinator of specialists,” Mueller explains. “The more we can support innovative models of practice, the better chance the profession has to evolve, and [to] respond appropriately to changing global conditions.”