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: Franco Purini (Winter 2007/2008)

title
Student Dormitory, Universita La Sapienza, Rome - Competition (2004)

ritratto purini

 

COMPETITIONS: Since you are interested in planning and 'The City of the Future,' one might imagine that someplace like the United States, where a building is here today and gone tomorrow, orr entire districts for that matter, would be more fertile ground for you, rather than Italy, where city cores are eternally preserved. How can one understand the 'City of the Future' here, against the background of Italian urban tradition?

 

Franco Purini: In Italy many think that the problems of the future in our country can be resolved only within the framework of preservation and restoration. Therefore, many think that we have enough (large) cities, where it is only necessary for them to deal with their own evolutionary process, taking into consideration their own history. As a result, the 'Italian culture,' not the 'architectural culture,' the culture that expresses the essence of the country, has a tendency to belive that something new is in someway an accessory, a corrective or an improvement, something marginal. To them, what is important is the presence of antiquity.

I have found this vision very limiting and restrictive, because even if Italy has a great presence of historical evidence, it also has a great need to have a strong tie with contemporary thought. Therefor it is necessary to add to the framework of that patrimonial conservation the politics and the implementation of new available knowledge, new strategies where needed. That should provide a relationship between our country's ideas and contemporary global development.

What is the effect of the current politics of preservation? The core or center of the historical city, like Sienna, is perfectly preserved as well as can be expected; and granting that such a thing is possible, this city expands without any planning, creating a suburban area. Therefore cities like Sienna, Pisa, and Venice just to name a few, have horrendous suburbs. it would be much more interesting to preserve the historical centers for what they are, and then the new districts which are needed should be built according to a well coordinated design, just as if they were new cities or neighborhoods as part of that existing city.

In Italy today, especially in the north, the diffused city prevails, a variety of the American sprawl, so that in the end there is no more an identity to these places. There aren't any places, there is nothing!

 

COMPETITIONS: In China, for instance, they are building many cities next to old ones, for as many as 50,000 inhabitants.

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