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: James Stirling (Spring 1993) with Jorge Glusberg

 


Nara Convention Center Jurors James Stirling with Jorge Glusberg (right)

 

GLUSBERG: What do you feel are the basic components necessary for good design?

 

STIRLING: I think every building must have at least two good ideas. I don’t see the design process as a sudden blinding flash of insight. That might be true for a structure that has one main purpose, like a stadium or an office building; but, in my opinion, it won’t work with a multi-functional building. That, in fact, is what most of the projects in our office tend to be.

 

GLUSBERG: Then how would you describe your process?

 

STIRLING: We really try to be careful and conscientious in our analysis. We work in a very linear fashion so that the final design reflects the path of decision-making.

 

GLUSBERG: You just said that few of your buildings have a simple program: but what about the Science Center in Berlin?

 

 



Berlin Science Center (photos: Stanley Collyer)

 

STIRLING: Yes, you’re right. That is an office complex, but it also incorporates an existing Beaux Arts building that was remodeled into several lecture halls. In the office building we had to provide three hundred similar offices for researchers. We were looking for an architectural solution, rather than for a solution to the program which would have been very repetitive. So we created a group of five adjoining buildings surrounding a courtyard. The space between the administration, the sociology and the environment departments, the library, and the archive helped us to overcome the monotony of the program.

 

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