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: Rob Wellington Quigley (Summer 2005)

 

COMPETITIONS: Recent years have seen an exponential increase in invited competitions. You have been in several.Young architects are always asking, ‘How does one get shortlisted for an invited competition? Any advice?

 

ROB QUIGLEY: It would appear that firms get shortlisted based on the work they have accomplished to date. I’m not sure it’s anythihng you can actually promote, other than focussing on doing good work. Of course that takes time and doesn’t help the young firms—the reason they are entering competitions is that they don’t have the built work yet. So it’s a classical chicken and egg situation. That’s why I’m glad there are still open competitions, which don’t discriminate against firms which don’t have a substantial repetoire of built work.

 

gilman mixed-use 01 gilman mixed-use
Gilman Mixed-Use Building with retail and parking, La Jolla, CA - 2000 (Photos: Rob Quigley)

COMPETITIONS: There have been a few isolated cases where firms invited themselves into an invited competition and won. One case which comes to mind was a high-rise competitiion in Miami, where Arquitectonica managed to become an add-on to an already shortlisted circle. After winning that one, there was no looking back.

 

RQ: I think the burden is really on the competition organizers. If I were organizing a competition and it was an invited format, I would hold at least one or even two slots that should be held open for young firms that have exhibited enormous talent, but don’t have that much built work to show for it.

 

COMPETITIONS: When a competition comes up, be it open or invited, what factors determine whether or not you will participate?

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