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: Silvio d’Ascia (2013) with Olha Romaniuk

with Olha Romaniuk

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COMPETITIONS: You moved from Italy to France in 1993. What was your decision behind moving and starting your architecture firm in Paris?

 

Silvio D'Ascia: Ever since I was a little boy, I wanted to be an artist and, ever since the first time I went to Paris when I was 12 years old, it was a childhood dream of mine to live in such an artistic city. After receiving my degree in Italy, I came to live in Paris and was supposed to stay only for a few months. This temporary visit turned into an opportunity for me to stay and work in France.

 

COMPETITIONS: How do you find the architectural scene in France compared to Italy?

SD: The main difference between Italy and France is that in Italy there was not a competition system in place in the 1990s. Every country in Europe looked at France as a place where it was possible for a young architect to participate in and win competitions, as well as be paid for competition participation and have a chance to do research even if the competition fee was not so high. During the first year of my firm in Paris, we participated in 9 public competitions. It was a great opportunity and my main reason behind the decision to stay in Paris.

 

COMPETITIONS: Were competitions always a part of your firm’s strategy to acquire new work or has that been a fairly recent development?


SD: Competitions have always been important for my own career as they paved the way for me in many areas. In the beginning, during my first four or five years in Paris, I was associated with another architect and we won several competitions together. And in 1999, as we went our separate ways, I entered an anonymous international competition for the Palais de Congrès, going against architects like Richard Rogers and Rafael Vinoly, with Norman Foster as the president of the jury. Massimiliano Fuksas won the competition and I received a second prize. This competition marked the beginning of Silvio d’Ascia Architecture.

One and a half years later, after the above-mentioned project, we won another competition for the Turin (Italy) high-speed railway station. This was the beginning of the next chapter of my professional experiences and projects. The Turin high-speed railway station has brought many other commissions in the railway and transport sectors for the firm.

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Congress Center of Rome (1999 design competition)

 

COMPETITIONS: How do you decide which competitions to go after?

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