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: Peter Busby (Winter 2010)

Brentwood_Skytrain_Station_Aerial_Night

COMPETITIONS: What led you to become an architect?

PB: I studied philosophy at the University of Toronto as part of my arts undergrad. In studying philosophy you study good and evil, right and wrong, laws and ethics. In the long run I decided philosophy was too sedentary, so I looked for a profession where I could live out some of what I had come to believe about right and wrong and essentially be able to do good. Architecture appealed to me as a place where I could affect the lives and futures of people in a non-political way. I also worked in construction to pay for the university—I did drywall—and got to know architects through that rather circuitous route, and talked to a few of them and went and visited some of their offices, and I took some introductory architecture courses in my final year of philosophy.


COMPETITIONS: You must have had people who influenced you greatly along the way.

PB: I credit one of the professors at UBC, Dr. Ray Cole. for awakening me to the environmental aspects of architectural design. At that point he was a 23-year-old PhD, a new professor at UBC fresh off the boat from England, and he had all these wonderful things to say about environmental issues and foreshadowing what everybody knows today about global warming. As best friends, we have mentored each other over the last 35 years and worked on some projects together.

Brentwood Skytrain Station, Burnaby, BC

I took some of the knowledge from him and went off to Europe. At the time I graduated in 1977, work was pretty scarce in Canada due to a recession. So in 1979 I went to London, looked at Grimshaw’s work, Renzo’s work, and Foster’s work, and decided I wanted to work for Norman Foster, and spent three very great years at his office. He had a great effect on me. Of course he was interested in environmental issues at that time, and had just finished the Willis Faber, a very pioneering green building. Buckminster Fuller was in the office at that time doing some experimental work with Foster, and I got to meet and know him. Charles and Ray Eames were in and out of the office. It was a very interesting time to be there.

oltremare_overall
Otremare Marine Theme Park, Riccione, Italy (Photo: courtesy Busby Perkins & Will)

COMPETITIONS: Foster must have been a lot smaller in those days.

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