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: Peter Pfau of Pfau Long Architecture (Spring 2007)

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Astronauts Memorial, Cape Canavera, Florida, by Holt Hinshaw Pfau Jones - Open National Design Competition (1987) (Photo: Mark Daley Photography)

COMPETITIONS: You started out as an art major. When did you decide to move to architecture?



Peter Pfau: I went to art school, dropped out, and became a carpenter and contractor. Going back to study architecture was kind of a natural progression for me. But I spent time getting back there, because I had to go through various colleges to get to the point where I had a degree.




 

COMPETITIONS: Being in construction isn’t a disadvantage before going into architecture.

 



PF: It isn’t, because I’m still a capable carpenter; so I expect from people in the field what I know I could deliver myself.

 




COMPETITIONS: In New York City you worked with some high profile architects who had relatively small studios. I’m thinking of Susanna Torre. Did those experiences serve as a model for your own firm?

 


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