Competitions as Stepping Stones for Young Architects
Example: Weiss Manfredi


Cornell Tech’s Roosevelt Island Campus Photo: ©Iwan Baan

 

In the early 1990s, Weiss Manfredi emerged as one of the most interesting young architecture firms in the U.S. How did this happen? Winning two important competitions in 1990/91—the Women’s Military Memorial in Washington, DC, and the Olympia Fields Mitchell Park competition in a Chicago suburb—served to propel this relatively unknown pair into the national limelight. From then on, the firm began to receive invitations to participate in invited competitions, winning several high-profile competitions, which included the highly acclaimed Seattle Art Museum Olympia Sculpture Park and the more recent Kent State Center for Architecture and Environmental Design competitions.

 

What marked their rise was not simply their expertise in developing landscape plans to fit a specific site, or detail in retrofitting or realizing significant buildings, but recognizing that architecture does not cease to exist at the front door. As a result of their success in those early competitions, the firm has received a number of commissions, such as the University of Pennsylvania’s Nanotechnology Institute and Cornell Tech’s recently completed “Bridge,” at their Roosevelt Island Campus. Not known for their high-rises, the firm seemed to strike just the right chord on this project. As a major piece of the Roosevelt Island campus ensemble, this building can hold its own with any of its neighbors—a tribute to the firm’s versatility.

 

Would all of this have been possible without those winning competition efforts? It’s clear that those experiences smoothed the path to career advancement…as both a learning experience and raising the firm’s profile.

 

  
Exterior and interior views  Photos: Iwan Baan

Interview with Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi:
https://competitions.org/2016/07/interview-weiss-manfredi-architects/

 

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Interview: John McAslan (Winter 2003)

FLW5
COMPETITIONS: I am presently here in London to talk to my editor about a ‘how to’ book we are doing on competitions.

 

JOHN MCASLAN: And how not to do them, I hope.

 

COMPETITIONS: You're familiar with one of those?

 

JM: We recently did one—Middlesborough Town Hall. It caused a real furor here.

 

COMPETITIONS: Usually the RIBA competitions are well organized.


Science Center, Florida Southern College (1996-2001)

 

JM: This was an open, non-RIBA competition to re-market (rebuild) the Town Hall in Middlesborough, a town which had quite a good artistic tradition. About ten years ago they commissioned Claes Oldenburg to design a sculpture. There was also a competition for a museum there—which we didn't get. And then there was the competition for the Town Hall, where we got to the last six. It was chaotic, as to what was to be submitted. There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, because the terms of reference weren't clear. And then there were long delays before the interviews. Finally we were asked to submit a tender(fee bid). But of the six tenders, only four arrived on time. Because of that, the two late tenderers were eliminated. I thought, 'well, you know you have to get them in on time.' But then one of the jurors walked out, because she thought it unfair that these two had been eliminated. Then it came out that they had opened the bids before the interviews took place.
We were only runners-up; but the whole thing has caused chaos because of the sloppiness with which the whole thing was organized. They should have selected the preferred team , then opened the bids.

   You asked about the RIBA competitions. We have won some and lost a some. But you can say that they are always immaculately organized—very transparent, no confusion over what is required when. If a competition is badly administered with lots of criticism,    it doesn't help at all, especially with funding.

 

FLW3  FLW1

 

Science Center, Florida Southern College (1996-2001)   Lab interior (left) and model (right)

 

COMPETITIONS: You were recently in the Fresh Kills competition in the U.S.

 

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