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: Matthias Sauerbruch of Sauerbruch Hutton (Spring 2008)

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GSW Competition, Berlin Winner Police and Fire Station, Berlin (competiiton 2002, completion 2004)

 

COMPETITIONS: Many architecture firms today have a multinational composition, and Sauerbruch Hutton is no exception. You started out in London, but moved to Berlin in 1993. Can I assume that was because you won a big competition here, then decided to stay?


MATTHIAS SAUERBRUCH: We started the office in London because Louisa and I met and got our BA in London. We then worked in offices in London, and basically through a number of circumstances decided to set up our own office. During that time we did a number of competitions on the continent, because in Britain there were hardly any competitions, whereas in Germany there were all of these big building projects which were competitions. One of the first competitions we entered, we won (GSE Headquarters Building, Berlin). We discovered fairly soon that there was no chance of actually realizing this project unless we were there. The other reason was that Berlin was really the most interesting place in Europe at that time. It just seemed it would be a missed opportunity not to be part of that. Once we started to set up an office, with all the infrastructure, and all the people attached, it becomes slightly less mobile. The irony is that for some years now we have not had any work in Berlin; it’s all elsewhere. But it is a nice place to be.

 

 

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Photonic Centre, Adlershof Research Park, Berlin (Competition, First Prize, 1995; Completion, 1998)

COMPETITIONS: In this day and age, with communications as they are, you can be almost anyplace

 

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