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: Ken Smith (Zaryadnye Park Juror (2014)

Ken Smith 5
COMPETITIONS: Was this your first time in Moscow?

 

KS: Each trip was so short, and we were actually cocooned in the Strelka institute and the area around Red Square during that short stay, so that we hardly had time to see anything else.

 

COMPETITIONS: What was your take on the Zaryadnye Park competition site?

 

KS: The site was fantastic. It’s right in the heart of Moscow, adjacent to a historic neighborhood, and on the other side to Red Square and the Kremlin. So there probably wasn’t a more significant site in the entire city. And it was a huge site—formerly the site of a huge hotel.

 

COMPETITIONS: You were there for two sessions. How far apart were they?

 

KS: The first session was in June in what was perfect Moscow weather. The jury convened to go through what seemed like a hundred submissions, which teams submitted with their credentials. We spent two days going through those. We reconvened in November for what was the final jury. So we also got the beginning of the Moscow winter on that trip, which gave us an idea of the seasonal change. At that time we reviewed the proposals of the six entries we had shortlisted, and saw the videos they had submitted. The teams did not present in person. The video presentations were quite sophisticated, and they had to have spent a lot of money on them. They were very good.

 

COMPETITIONS: The composition of the jury was interesting. Did most of the discussions take place in English?

 

KS: Everything was in simulcast translation. We always had our headsets on, so even when somebody was speaking in Russian, you would get the simultaneous translation. So it worked pretty well.

 

COMPETITIONS: I see that Peter Walker was also a juror.

 

KS: He was not there for the first session, but was there for the final meeting.

 

COMPETITIONS: It was a rather large jury. Was it somewhat unwieldy because of the size?

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