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: Craig Dykers/Snøhetta (Fall 2006)

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COMPETITIONS: When did you decide you wanted to become an architect?

Craig Dykers: I started off wanting to work with fashion—women’s fashion and clothing seemed very interesting to me. I quickly learned that the world of fashion wasn’t what I had anticipated. It came to feel very superficial and calculating. I left that and was somehow accepted into medical school, perhaps because of an interest I had in the human body. My grades were not very high; but my notebooks were apparently impressive. In medical school your notebooks are reviewed as well as taking tests My ability to draw anatomical forms was very good and one of the professors recommended that instead of studying medicine I should enroll in the art school and become an anatomical illustrator.

 

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Alexandria Library, Alexandria, Egypt (Competition 1989, completion 2001)
Surprisingly I was accepted into the art department and I soon found myself feeling very comfortable. I began to fall in love with everything; I was beginning to get commissions, drawing cartoons for a local paper, and doing editorial illustrations. I called up my father one day—with whom I had had a very good relationship, and told him I wanted to become an artist. This was met with silence. I didn’t understand that, because he had always taken me to museums, and he was very much a lover of art. He simply said, ‘Well son, you’re not going to get any help from me.’ A couple of weeks later I asked him why he had been so negative. He replied, ‘If you need to call up your father to get his approval for being an artist, then you will never be a good artist. You should have done it and not called me. Then I would have given you all the help you wanted.’

I was confused with what to do with this conundrum. He advised me further, ‘You like science and art; architecture seems like a good thing.' I admitted that I had no idea what that was all about. He said something like, “Architects make churches and things like that. I felt I could work with this, making places for people. The architecture school accepted me and I rolled right into it, staying up many nights to work on my studio assignments. The end result of that long story is that there is an interest in the human form and the notion of the human body as it relates to the things we create. I think that is still with me.

COMPETITIONS: Was Charles Moore already in Austin when you were a student there?

CD: He arrived as I was leaving and there was only one semester overlap. I remember asking him why the nice parts of cities often appear to be on the west or north sides. Not entirely true, but it’s pretty frequent.

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Alexandria Library, Alexandria, Egypt (Competition 1989, completion 2001)

COMPETITIONS: Snøhetta’s origin began with the Alexandria competition. How did that come about?

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