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: Steve Wiesenthal, University of Chicago Campus Architect (2014)

Interview with Steve Wiesenthal, University of Chicago

Campus Architect

with Stanley Collyer

aerialcollage

Finalists clockwise from top left: Studio Gang, Perkins and Will, Hopkins Architects, BIG

 

COMPETITIONS: Based on past and recent history, the University of Chicago seems to be concentrating on exceptional design. Just being in Chicago might be one reason; but you have instituted a competitive design process. How did this come about?

STEVE WIESENTHAL: For every project we undertake, we do an in-depth analysis about the best delivery process, the types of architects we think might be best for those types of projects, and, in the case of the residence hall—which is not just a residence hall, but dining commons, some class rooms, and some other community-type spaces—we had a pretty good idea programmatically what we wanted. The site is on the edge of campus and had on it a 1962 residence hall that was pretty much a fortress up against the surrounding community in Hyde Park. At the primary intersection of campus and community, there was a loading dock and a giant brick wall. We saw this site as an opportunity to dramatically change the relationship between campus and community and thought that what we really wanted to find in the architectural community was ideas that would create the best college housing experience for our students and layer onto that this notion that it would completely change the experience for everybody else on the campus. It’s a big site; we actually expanded it. We incorporated what had been a practice field for our athletic program. The idea was that we create a whole new quadrangle for the campus.

Again, I don’t think I would do a design competition for a high performance physical sciences laboratory building where you want to generate the program and design in parallel. The fact that we had a clear program and high aspirations for the urban plan of this, suggested approaching architects in a competition mode.

 

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