This article is part of our series of profiles on The Architectural League of New York’s 2023 Emerging Voices winners published in the March/April issue of AN. The full list of winners can be found here.
Dream The Combine creates immersive public installations that provoke viewers to think critically about their individual and collective relationships to space and mainstream historical narratives.
A 2021 installation in Columbus, Indiana, realized as part of Exhibit Columbus’s New Middles exhibition, demonstrates how firm cofounders Jennifer Newsom and Tom Carruthers merge art, architecture, and (re)education. (The duo are also educators: Both teach at Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning.) In Indiana, the pair and their team dived into the colonialist subtext of “Discover Columbus!”—a seemingly anodyne roadside sign that welcomes visitors to the city. They link the message to Christopher Columbus’s exploration of the “new world” and Europeans’ subsequent violent colonization of the Americas. To do this, the designers imagined “Columbus” and its associations as nodes in a global network of places named after Columbus. They mapped a sloping lawn using the Mercator projection, positioning empty flagpoles at locations named Columbus, Columbia, Colombo, or Colón. Spiraling text on each pole shares information about each place, prompting visitors to circumnavigate dozens of poles embedded in the hillside.
In Columbus, Indiana—and, largely, in all its projects—Dream The Combine uses hefty materials like steel, glass, and construction textiles to tie its work to infrastructure. But rather than opt for fixity, these elements are animated with movement. For Longing (2015), Newsom and Carruthers installed a mirror within a scrapped piece of Minneapolis’s enclosed skyway pedestrian bridge network to honor the old infrastructure and forge a new network that extends outward and inward. The designers installed movable mirrors on both ends of the skyway that move with only 35 pounds of wind pressure to reflect horizons beyond the desolate surroundings. A short film about the project by regular collaborator Isaac Gale captured the eeriness and the beauty of the skybridge and its surroundings.
A similar technique was in the office’s 2018 installation for Hide & Seek for MoMA PS1’s Young Architects Program. Within the museum’s courtyard, mobile mirrored surfaces were set in and among long lines of steel-framed bays, distorting the space’s dimensions. A netted lounging area allowed visitors to see themselves reflected into the distance. The apparatus also extended atop the institution’s boundaries. The architects declare: “We can’t get rid of the infrastructure of these walls, but we can refuse their hold and introduce new conceptualizations of space and occupation.”