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: Spela Videcnik of OFIS (Summer 2012)

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Farewell Chapel - All photos by Tomaz Gregoric

COMPETITIONS: How did you come to study architecture?

Spela Videcnik: Originally I wanted to be a fashion designer. Already at the age of ten I was already starting to do clothes by myself. Then my mother said, there isn’t much of a future in that. So I decided to study architecture. And there I met Rok, who came from an architecture background.


COMPETITIONS: After Slovenia separated from Yugoslavia over 20 years ago; this must have had an effect on the architecture profession.

SV: For the architects who were in the old system with big firms, they had to start from scratch—like everybody else. In some ways it was more difficult for them as they were not used to dealing with budgets under the previous regime; others took care of contracts. For the older architects, it was probably quite hard; for us, we managed to somehow learn. As a result, I think we were in the same position.

Before the breakup of the old state, Yugoslavia was a larger market; and there were some good architects from Serbia and the other Yugoslavian states. Back then, the Yugoslavian market was closed to Europe, and the rest of Europe wasn’t that open to us.

COMPETITIONS: After Slovenian independence, did architects here look first to Austria?

SV: No, mainly to Holland. For those who could afford it, Holland was the place to go. And, of course, there was the AA and even LA for those who could afford it. But most of us went there to study, for things were going so well here that we came back soon afterwards. For a while, we were building three large projects a year. Of course, that hasn’t been the case the past three years.


COMPETITIONS: What was your first successful competition?

SV: Housing Block 6 (Lakeside Apartments) in Ljubljana was our first building when we first started our practice, and this was after winning the competition. The competition took place in 1997, and the project was completed in 2000.

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Housing Block 6 (Lakeside Apartments)

Initially we entered a lot of competitions; most were open, and there was no requirement of any financial guarantees. The state was sponsoring these competitions, and, since there were no restrictions on participation, we were doing a lot of them. In 1998 we won two more competitions, one a housing competition, the other for a stadium in Maribor, the latter taking ten years to complete.

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