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: Susie Kim of Koetter & Kim (Winter 2004)

kka.1Sewoon District 4 Urban Redevelopment Competition, Seoul, South Korea (Winning entry)

COMPETITIONS: Let's talk about one of your most recent competitions where you came out on top - the Seoul planning competition. I recalled one of your statements about urban planning while I was looking at the Seoul plan: "You can't fool a city." With that in mind, how did you approach the challenge to create something new in a high density environment, where an old megastructure once existed?

 

KIM: These ideas are one that come from oneself. You study a city., you know the personality of a city. If one begins by looking, it's the city that is going to tell you something. Because Seoul is my hometown, I could have a lot of input in the design process. In fact the area where I grew up is just down the street where my grandfather owned a block. I was quite familiar with the nature and characteristics of this district. Historically, it was always the heart of the city. If you look at it topographically, you come to realize what it was historically: it was an important place. (This place) was alive with its history, its philosophy, religion and culture. It was really the heart of it all. In recent years it has been neglected, and for various reasons: the landowners would not sell - they really didn't need the money so they set a price that was actually too high. During the military era, they put a highway through the district. The canal, which had been the center of much of domestic life, was filled in - it was also part of the city water system at one time. My sense was that if it was going to come back, it shouldn't ignore its historical roots. There was every reason why it should be something of great quality. It's not just about keeping up with the Jones's, just to bring the tourists in, but it had to become the center that it was always meant to be.

 

kka.9
Sewoon District 4 Urban Redevelopment Competition, perspective view with reflecting pool
So one begins to come up with an idea, and those ideas begin with those natural conditions, where if you understand the Korean culture, there is a great link to something natural; it's an authentic place. At the same time there is more willpower to the city than any other city I have seen. It's possible there that you can have both, linking you to what is to its history; but you really want to be in the position where you are the example of what the city of the future should be also. That's where we begin, and it doesn't necessarily come from ourselves, but it comes from the study of the possibilities presented by the given conditions and situation.
kka.3
Sewoon District 4 Urban Redevelopment Competition, site plan
COMPETITIONS: The way this was explained to me, this will be somewhat like the Potsdamer Platz model from Berlin with various architects establishing their own personality within the plan. Do you see a similarity?

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