‘What we make is something that looks beneath the surface level of things, often considering the section of an image,’ says Dream the Combine’s Jennifer Newsom. Her husband and studio co-founder Thomas Carruthers adds: ‘We are looking for pretty fundamental things. Who decides what we see? Who gets to feel as though they belong? We have certain ways we are trained to receive information, and there are also social constructs that order our reality. In some ways our work is straddling the built form and social infrastructure.’

Such questions and more are at the heart of the practice for this young and highly subversive studio, which was founded in 2013 in Minneapolis and is now based between there and Ithaca, NY, where Newsom and Carruthers have just been appointed faculty at Cornell University. 

Dream the Combine

Dream the Combine’s Jennifer Newsom and Thomas Carruthers
Dream the Combine’s Jennifer Newsom and Thomas Carruthers. Photography: Hugo Yu

Their practice is highly unconventional. While ‘traditional’ building work is certainly part of what they do (both of them are qualified architects), the majority of their output is more akin to art, taking the form of spatial installations and large-scale architectural structures or pavilions that touch on a great variety of subjects and draw on various practices.

Examples include their recent participation in Exhibit Columbus 2021, Indiana’s annual architectural exploration and festival. Their piece, Columbus Columbia Colombo Colón, was a comment on the ubiquity of the name of Christopher Columbus and the narrative around it. ‘The name and its legacy is everywhere, it is impossible not to see it,’ says Carruthers. 

Dream the Combine’s installation at Exhibit Columbus
Columbus Columbia Colombo Colón at Exhibit Columbus 2021. Photography: Hadley Fruits

Each of the founders offers a different take as to what their breakthrough project was. For Newsom, it was Hide&Seek, their participation in the 2018 Young Architects Program at Moma PS1. For Carruthers, it was an earlier work, Longing, which was built in 2015. ‘It’s an almost invisible installation, one that we fundraised for and made ourselves. It was done very fast; [there was] just a three-week window to realise it after two years of ideation. It became a gravitational moment for me,’ he explains. 

Dream the Combine’s Clearing installation
Clearing installation. Photography: Caylon Hackwith

A collaborative, discursive approach, the frequent use of industrial materials that are hard-wearing, recycled and recyclable (often steel and glass), and a preference for working in the public realm help define their small but impactful practice. Teaching, mentoring (Newsom has taken part in non-profit youth programme Juxtaposition Arts in the past), curating (they are part of a group of curators for the upcoming 2023 Counterpublic Triennial in St Louis, MO) and a lot of open-ended research also help continuously cross-pollinate their work, which is ultimately, they say, about people.

‘We are interested in building community across difference,’ says Newsom.

‘Being an architect is a lot about building trust,’ Carruthers concludes. §

Dream the Combine’s hide and seek installation
Hide And Seek installation. Photography: Pablo Enriquez
Longing installation by jenifer newsom and thomas carruthers

Longing installation. Photography: Caylon Hackwith