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: Blostein/Overly Architects (Summer 2010)

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COMPETITIONS: What led both of you to architecture? Was it something that occurred early on, or was it more of an evolutionary process?

 

BETH BLOSTEIN: Our answers will be very different. My interest was pretty sudden. I randomly decided to take an architecture class at Ohio State, and once I got into it, it seemed to be such a natural fit—for a way of thinking and making things. Even though it wasn’t something I had considered before, it seemed pretty natural.

 


Beth Blostein and Bart Overly

 

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Franklinton Arts District, Live/Make Artist's Housing, Columbus, OH
COMPETITIONS: In these times it’s pretty unusual to be able to come in as a general studies student and take a studio course in architecture.
BETH BLOSTEIN: In those days, you took a studio course and then applied. I applied for the program after I had taken an introductory class, not really sure if I would get in. After I did get accepted to the program, it did turn out to seem like a natural fit/
BART OVERLY: I can very distinctly remember when I was in third grade, we got a Crate and Barrel catalogue at the house. Everything was crisp and clean and white and black and red. I just loved the stuff. I grew up in a house with two parents with very traditional tastes, and I asked my mom, ‘Who buys this stuff?’ And she said, ‘I think architects probably buy this stuff.’ I was always very interested in the arts as a young kid, and I liked how the profession merged with so many other disciplines to effect cultural change and all those kinds of issues. That’s why I think architects are still needed in our culture today.
COMPETITIONS: You both were students at about the same time at Ohio State. Was it clear early on that a professional partnership was a possibility in the future?

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