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: Frederic Schwartz (Spring 2006)

towers2cmyk cp light
"World Cultural Center" - World Trade Center Innovative Masterplan - Runnerup, Ground Zero, NY, 2003
By THINK Team: Shigeru Ban, Frederic Schwartz, Ken Smith, Rafael Vinoly
COMPETITIONS: When did you know that you wanted to become an architect?

Frederic Schwartz: I grew up just a couple of towns over from Levittown. When anybody got a washing machine or refrigerator, I would scour the neighborhood for the boxes and bring them home with the help of my dad. I would make things out of them, like tunnels or big buildings. Where I grew up, they were always building houses in the neighborhood, and I was always watching this construction.
When I went to Berkeley, I had my first course with Joe Escherick as my professor, who was such a great teacher. He was the only architect I knew who won both the gold Medal for Firm of the Year and the teaching award. We remained very close through the rest of my career. In fact his wife gave me his shirt when he passed away. So when I was a freshman in college, I was already sure I wanted to become an architect. It wasn’t just Escherick, there were all these other great teachers, i.e., Roger Montgomery, J. B. Jackson, Richard Bender, Russ Ellis, and Marc Treib at Berkeley, and Jerzy Soltan at Harvard.
This was already called the College of Environmental Design in the 60s; so you automatically approached architecture and urbanism recognizing those parameters. I agreed with their philosophy: the school was very much about the relationship of landscape to building.

 

COMPETITIONS: You have participated in many competitions, some entirely on your own—here I am thinking about the memorial competitions you have won more recently—and others where you were a team member. Santa Fe is an example of the latter. But early on you collaborated with Robert Venturi on two competitions here in New York City. From those, the Whitehall Ferry Terminal has been built. How do you decide with whom you may wish to collaborate?

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