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: Steven Holl (Summer 1998)

with Stanley Collyer

portrait 30% copy SHA_02_PAN view_extra long
Mumbai City Museum Competition Winner (2014)

 

COMPETITIONS: What was the first competition you ever participated in?

 

HOLL: I did a competition in 1972 for the Niagara Falls Rainbow Plaza Gardens—which I did in my bedroom in San Francisco. I had just graduated from the University of Washington and had moved to San Francisco, where I was working for Backen Aarigoni and Ross. I think I got fourth place, or something like that in that competition, and it gave me incredible encouragement to proceed in my own design work. It was published in architecture plus by Peter Blake. The article was called “Back from Niagara.” That was the first time I ever got published.

 

COMPETITIONS: The last time we met you had just returned from San Francisco, where you came in a very close second in the San Francisco Mission Bay planning competition (COMPETITIONS, Vol. 8, #2). You teamed up with George Hargreaves, a landscape architect who is not known for just filling in the blanks.

 

HOLL: Whenever you go after a competition, you try to put the best team together and envision winning it. I thought that George would be a great collaborator out there in San Francisco—he lives on a hill which overlooks the Mission Hill project—I thought that if all things went well, he would be the best person to work with. We collaborated back and forth by fax and met a few times. I think he was very partial to some of the ideas we had; he helped us to develop them. There was a good back-and-forth going on.

 

COMPETITIONS: I understand that one of the major concerns of the jury was phasing, since the plan could not be realized all at once. One member of the jury characterized the first phase as “brilliant.”

 

HOLL: I thought our phasing scheme was very good—and this was George’s idea—in the sense that we could landscape and make an incredible public space in the first phase. I thought it was the strongest part of our scheme. I think one has to look at it carefully to understand it. That was actually the strongest part of our scheme.

 

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Glasgow SHA 14-01 6922 Completed-003
Holl model (upper left) for Glasgow School of Art Competition (2009); Completion (2013)

 

COMPETITIONS: Many of your recent projects have been additions to buildings—Cranbrook, Pratt Institute, the University of Minnesota School of Architecture. Additions can be almost like infill; but in other respects, a question may arise, as in Cranbrook, as to how much you may feel obligated to defer to Saarinen’s design. How does the existing architecture play a role?

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