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Visual & Design Arts

In the limelight

By Keith Bretzius

Each year, the Rome Prize — a national competition —  is awarded to approximately thirty individuals who represent the highest standard of excellence in the arts and humanities. This year’s Rome Prize for architecture went to Catie Newell (photo right), an assistant professor of architecture at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

Professor Newell is also a founding principal of Alibi Studio based in Detroit. Her work and research captures spaces and material effects, focusing on the development of new atmospheres through the exploration of textures, volumes, and the effects of light or lack thereof. Newell’s creative practice has been widely recognized for exploring design construction and materiality in relationship to the specificity of location and geography and cultural contingencies. Newell won the 2011 Architectural League Prize for Young Architects and Designers.

Other categories in the competition included ancient studies, visual arts, literature, design, medieval studies, historic preservation and conversation, Renaissance and Modern Studies, and musical composition.

The 31 winners were announced April 17 at the Arthur & Janet C. Ross Rome Prize Ceremony held at the Metropolitan Club in New York City.

Recipients of the 2013-2014 Rome Prizes are provided with a fellowship that includes a stipend, a study or studio, and room and board for a period of six months to two years in Rome, Italy.

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Prize recipients are invited to Rome for six months to two years to immerse themselves in the Academy community where they will enjoy a once in a lifetime opportunity to expand their own professional, artistic, or scholarly pursuits, drawing on their colleagues’ erudition and experience and on the inestimable resources that Italy, Europe, and the Academy have to offer.

Newell joined the faculty in 2009 as the Oberdick Fellow. She received her Masters of Architecture from Rice University and a Bachelor of Science in architecture from Georgia Tech.

Below is a description of her project, “Involving Darkness,” written by Newell:

“Nightfall formulates a new city. With light limited to artificial sources and darkness expanded in space, geometries are heightened or masked, symmetries are obscured, masses are erased, and the air appears to have weight. The city dissolves into a peculiar optical fragmentation; its partially illuminated elements give the impression of being in suspension, and the adjoining darkened spaces lack clarity and definition. These compounding immaterial effects distort our spatial perception, making the once familiar setting unfamiliar by challenging both the visual appearance of space and its implied conditions of occupation. Our surroundings become formally obscured, and the physical extent of architecture is thrown into question. Owing to its capacity to manipulate and create unique spatial effects, darkness can be used as a design tool, revealing new environments and obscuring otherwise familiar ones, affording them unexpected dimensions. Involving Darkness will benefit from a setting where dominant formal conditions of symmetry, rhythm and axis are tools for manipulation, and the reworking of existing fragments is an ongoing technique for transforming the city. The outcome will be built installation work that utilizes material distortions, pressing on architecture, and adding formal mutations to the dark landscapes of Rome.”


Keith Bretzius is communications director at University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

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