Jennifer Bonner

Best Sandwiches

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Jennifer Bonner [MALL], "Best Sandwiches: Picnic," 2016. Courtesy of the Author.

Four Things to Note about Best Sandwiches

I. Problem of the extrusion
Architects have recently talked about mountains, candy and puppets.1 They used to talk about sheds, blobs and fields.2 We are interested in talking about sandwiches.3 Or is the sandwich merely a stand-in to generate a discourse in architecture around the problem of the extrusion? Borrowing from past and recent history’s best practices for assembling sandwich architecture, Best Sandwiches is a design and research project by Jennifer Bonner (MALL) in search of novel spatial stacks. Awkward middle levels are piled up and squeezed together resulting in messy figures between two slices of architectural bread. Extrusion is not entirely off-limits, but used sparingly.

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Jennifer Bonner [MALL], "Best Sandwiches: BLT," 2016. Courtesy of the Author.
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Jennifer Bonner [MALL], "Best Sandwiches: BLT," 2016. Courtesy of the Author.

II. A sandwich that caught our eye
MVRDV’s Dutch Pavilion at the Hanover Expo (2000) presents the most didactic stratification of non-extrusion architecture—a Best Sandwiches true exemplar.4 Cheese is rendered as a simple yellow slab. Red, porous, and figural, the tomato is squeezed between the cheese slab and the lettuce level filled with live trees. Beyond the Dutch Pavilion, sandwich architecture is most productive when it announces distinguishable layers of the building. One outcome of this approach is a subversion of the conventional building/ground relationship. In architectural sandwiches, there is no longer a single ground upon which a unified figure sits. Instead, these stratified buildings propose a multiplicity of grounds, which slice the elevations into a series of horizontal figures.

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Jennifer Bonner [MALL], "Best Sandwiches: Grilled Cheese," 2016. Courtesy of the Author.
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Jennifer Bonner [MALL], "Best Sandwiches: Grilled Cheese," 2016. Courtesy of the Author.

III. Best Colors
The nine sandwiches on display present a close reading of several classic sandwich types: the grilled cheese, the BLT, the hamburger, the Dagwood, and the submarine, to name a few. Color and the deployment of many types of apertures are intentional. They promote the legibility of repeating layers found in a high-stack Dagwood sandwich or suggest the vaguely familiar melting cheddar found in a grilled cheese sandwich. Color is a necessity for reading Best Sandwiches. Whether it is displayed in the picnic scene, served up in a single elevation or distributed in physical models, color is part of the recipe.

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Jennifer Bonner, "Best Sandwiches: Hamburger," 2016. Courtesy of the Author.
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Jennifer Bonner, "Best Sandwiches: Hamburger," 2016. Courtesy of the Author.
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Jennifer Bonner, "Best Sandwiches: Submarine," 2016. Courtesy of the Author.
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Jennifer Bonner, "Best Sandwiches: Submarine," 2016. Courtesy of the Author.

IV. A Picnic Blanket
Visionary architecture has a long history of being rendered on top of recognizable grounds. In the postwar era, numerous architects depicted their utopian speculations against the backdrop of ubiquitous urban or rural landscapes. Best Sandwiches has its own familiar ground plane: the picnic blanket. On one hand, the picnic blanket is a traditional, known accompaniment. On the other hand, its checkered, iconic pattern is not a likely ground for a cluster of buildings. Its thin and wrinkled surface connotes whimsy and delight, rather than firmness and weight. After all, the picnic blanket is a temporary ground. Once the sandwiches are consumed, the blanket can be picked up, shaken off and easily moved. The picnic blanket is not a representation of the city grid or another Super Surface—it is merely a picnic blanket. As such, it is more closely linked to contemporary culture’s obsession with what we eat and how it is displayed.

Project Credits:
Research and design assistants: Justin Jiang and John Going
Rendering: Kenneth Robin


  1. Mountains = First Office, Candy = SPORTS, Puppets = The LADG 

  2. Sheds = Venturi Scott Brown, Blobs = Greg Lynn FORM, Fields = Stan Allen 

  3. Sandwiches = MALL 

  4. BLT = Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato Sandwich 


Jennifer Bonner is Assistant Professor at Harvard University Graduate School of Design and Director of MALL. Born in Alabama, Jennifer received a Bachelor of Architecture from Auburn University and a Master of Architecture from Harvard University Graduate School of Design, where she was awarded the James Templeton Kelley Prize for her project Assemblage of Twins. Her undergraduate thesis project, Cedar Pavilion, was designed and constructed at the Rural Studio in Perry County, Alabama. Her research and design work has been published in journals including Architectural Review, Architectural Record, Wallpaper, a+t, DAMn, ART PAPERS, PLAT, and MAS Context. She is founder of A Guide to the Dirty South with forthcoming titles in Atlanta and New Orleans. Bonner has exhibited at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London, National Building Museum in Washington DC, Association of Architects of Catalonia in Barcelona, WUHO Gallery in Los Angeles, HistoryMIAMI, and most recently at the Istanbul Design Biennial.