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: Jacques Ferrier (Fall 2009) with Olha Romaniuk

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Cite de la Voile Eric Tabarly, Lorient, France, 2007 - Winning competition entry (Photo: Luc Boegly)

COMPETITIONS: What inspired you to start your career in architecture?

Jacques Ferrier: First and foremost, I was fascinated with the way buildings were built, with their structure. Before I was trained as an architect, I was trained as an engineer - in science and mathematics - and then I pursued architecture. When I began my architectural studies in architecture, I realized the specificity of it, as compared to art or engineering. In a way architecture is less complex because there might be less calculation involved, but more complex because you work directly with people, with site contexts, etcetera.

COMPETITIONS: And what inspired you to start your own firm?

JF: I started a firm with a friend of mine who went to school with me. We started in 1990, as sort of a first run. I opened my own office in 1993, sixteen years ago now. We were lucky because it was the end of the golden age of public competitions in France and it was possible, even if you were a young architect, to be invited to participate in these competitions. When I started my practice, I managed to get invited to one such competition for a university laboratory building. With this building, I received a national prize, which was typically awarded for an architect’s first work. A few weeks after that, I won another competition for an industrial facility for the city of Paris – a water treatment plant. It was interesting because the brief for the building was very typical, but the lasting impact was on the site as a whole.

COMPETITIONS: Who were your mentors when you were receiving your education and who were your major influences along the way?

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