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: Donald Stastny (Fall 2010) with Barry and Melody Finnemore

with Barry and Melody Finnemore

 

COMPETITIONS: How did you get started in competition management?

 

Don Stastny: It started as part of the development of the city of Portland's Downtown Plan. The block that eventually became Pioneer Courthouse Square was proposed as a 10-story parking garage. That proposal coalesced the community - the design community and the lay community - into thinking about what they wanted downtown Portland to be. There was quite a conversation between politicians, business leaders and designers about what the square should be, and there was so much controversy involved that no one with the city wanted to deal with the politics of it.

 

pioneer square
Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland Oregon - Competition (1980)
Designer - Willard Martin

When we were selected to manage the process, we focused on three things: defining a program for the square, developing a budget and determining how to select a design with so many ideas floating around. We formed a technical advisory committee, a design advisory committee and a citizens advisory committee, and held 162 public and private meetings over three years.


The program was for an open square with coverage limited to a third of the site, and a public square in the European style. The budget came in at just over four million dollars. And we decided that we would hold a design competition with some “insurance policies” built in.


It was important to note that this wasn't just about design, but also about commerce and politics in the city and what the square should be for the community. We had very few U.S. examples of public squares at that time, so much of the competition was about defining what a civic square in an American city should be.



COMPETITIONS: Which competition(s) gave you the most satisfaction?

 

DS: Those that have been the most rewarding are in a way the most conflicting: the Oklahoma City and Flight 93 memorials. With both we were dealing with a rush toward “memorialization.”

 

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