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: Diana Balmori (Winter 2009/2010)

Diana  Balmori
COMPETITIONS: What brought you to landscape architecture in the first place. And whom did you first look to as a model?

Diana Balmori: When I got my Ph.D. in history, it was the study of public open spaces in cities. The experiences of landscape had to do more with the amount of time I spent in back country in northwest Argentina, north of Chile and south of Bolivia. My father was a linguist and was studying American Indian languages there. We spent a lot of time going out on horseback in deserted landscapes where the Indians lived. Those experiences were very powerful, just the feeling of space. That experience is not a direct one, but it’s always been an active ingredient in thinking about space. The other one was just the issue of the space inside cities.
As for model, I got into landscape because I started writing about Beatrix Farrand, and I encountered a cache of documents at the New York Historical Society about her correspondence with the architect Lawrence White, the son of the famous architect. It concerned this place in Washington. Nobody had any idea about how she had designed it and how she was involved. So here was this incredibly long correspondence about this. I wrote about how in fact all the decisions were being made about the design. She had been forgotten, and there was very little written about her. So after that I some digging on her work on her work at Princeton and her work at Yale, and at Princeton I also discovered a book at Princeton of the actual design and caring for the landscape for about twenty years there. I found it an incredibly wonderful document from which to learn. It was the basis of my learning and getting interested in landscape. After that I decided I wanted to do landscape (design) and not write about it.

 

Bilbao Jardin, Bilboa, Spain (click to enlarge)

 

COMPETITIONS: When one sees your body of work, which are significant for the number of competitions you have participated in, one might assume that you are located in Europe, rather than in this country. It would appear that much of your work has come as the result of competitions. How did you get so deeply involved in that area?

 

DB: At one level, it’s the only way for a person who comes in from the outside for getting jobs. You’re starting an office, so where do you go to? I didn’t have any connections to say, ‘Give me a job.’ So from the beginning I jumped into competitions from day one, and I have pursued them very actively. Now we get into invited competitions and more direct commissions.

COMPETITIONS: Along the way, you must have learned something from these competitions.

 

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