Jennifer Newsom

Design Critic in Architecture

Photo by Martin Szabo

Jennifer Newsom is a licensed architect, artist, and principal of Dream The Combine, based in Minneapolis, MN. She is Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota School of Architecture.

Through Dream The Combine, which was founded with Tom Carruthers in 2013, Jennifer has co-produced numerous site-specific installations in the U.S. and Canada that explore metaphor, perceptual uncertainties, and the boundary between real and illusory space. They are winners of the 2018 Young Architects Program at MoMA PS1 for their installation Hide & Seek, and were recently named winners of the 2020-2021 J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prize.

Dream the Combine has exhibited at MoMA and MoMA PS1 in New York, NY, and in Seattle WA, East Haddam CT, Vancouver BC, Rome Italy, Minneapolis MN and St. Paul MN. Their work has been published widely, including Metropolis Magazine, Architect, Log, Architectural Record, The Architects Newspaper, and Dezeen. They are currently at work on upcoming installations in Cincinnati OH, Wilkinsburg PA, and Columbus IN.

Dream The Combine’s work conflates what is real with what is imagined to create perceptual uncertainties that cast doubt on our “known” understanding of the world. They are images deconstructed sectionally and, while made of industrial materials, have the lightness of drawing. Through techniques such as doubling (mirrors), juxtaposition (collage), overlay (projection), or mimicry (casting), their work conveys a multitude of viewpoints at a time, and inserts an oscillation into the figure-ground dialectic central to architectural practice and the basis of metaphor.

Jennifer’s research lies in the space between real, tangible bodies made of flesh, steel, glass, etc, and the perception of these bodies through vision. As scholar Sarah Lewis has noted: “Seeing has become a mode of reading the world. We make meaning of what we see through conditioned sight, and the question becomes what conditions the mode of seeing? When it comes to race and equity, this has become increasingly important to understand.” As an architect, she examine racial constructs in the context of built constructions, where these spatial metaphors act as mechanisms for connectedness and engagement. People are the activating agents in her work, and their presence is needed for a reconsideration, a “reconditioning” to use Lewis’ term, of our bodies in relation to one another.

Jennifer teaches in the Bachelor of Design in Architecture, Bachelor of Science, and Master in Architecture programs at UMN School of Architecture. Her teaching is centered on the lived experiences of real people in real places, rooting projects within the local context of the Twin Cities region. She has partnered for a number of years with Juxtaposition Arts, a local youth-empowerment arts organization, to co-create possibilities for their expanded campus in North Minneapolis. Jennifer was awarded the 2020 AIA MN Special Award for her contributions to education and practice.

Jennifer earned her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Architecture from Yale University. While a graduate student, she organized the symposium Black Boxes: Enigmas of Space and Race held at Yale School of Architecture and wrote the entry “Architects, African-American” in Vol. 2 of Africana: Encyclopedia of the African and African-American Experience. She speaks about her work and issues regarding race and architecture widely, such as at the landmark conference Black Architects and Planners 1968-Now held in 2018 at the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. She is on the advisory board for the upcoming Museum of Modern Art exhibition, Reconstructions: Unbuilding Race in America and is a founding member of Dark Matter University, a national consortium of scholars and practitioners of color furthering anti-racist design education.

(Citation: Osterheldt, Jeneé. “This is Sarah Lewis. You should know who she is.” Boston Globe, 24 April 2019. Accessed 25 April 2019.)