Inhabiting Topography – Weiss / Manfredi

Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi gave a public lecture at Baldwin Spencer, Melbourne University, tonight to a full house audience. It was a great lecture not only getting to see 10 of their works but to know more about them as people and how they talk about their projects. Many times as students we know the works of architects before (if we ever get the chance) to meet them in real life. Marion and Michael are really good speakers who talk about their work in a clear and insightful way that really connects with the images they show. In the short time of just over an hour they managed to introduce ten works, past and current projects all over the world. Our dean Tom Kvan introduced the duo as a New York based multi-disciplinary practice. This is evident in their work which encompasses architecture, landscape and urbanism. Marion says they are preoccupied with work in broader terms, in that buildings are not just objects but are part of a larger terrain. The title of their lecture ‘Inhabiting Topography’ further strengthens their ethos. They pointed out that sites are not given but are made. In all of their works great consideration has been given to the site itself to ensure they have made it into the ideal context for the specific project.


The first project they worked on was the Women’s Memorial and Education Center in Arlington, Virginia. The project was the result of winning a national competition. A unique feature of this project was how the inscriptions on the glass are reflected below onto the walls during the day making it readable when you are inside the memorial.




The Diana Center at Barnard College allows students to look both inside and outside. The use of specially designed glass panels (some clear, some coloured) changes colour depending on lighting conditions and blends in with the surrounding brick buildings. These panels also offer various levels of opacity and transparency depending on the programme behind.


Sylvan Grove was the recent winner of the National Mall Design Competition for the Washington Monument Grounds at Sylvan Theatre in Washington DC. In such a political site at the base of the Washington monument Sylvan grove aims to re-frame the mall and connect it to the tidal basin while providing an area of rest as well as places to eat and also acting as a welcoming entry into the site. The landscape is used as an edge where the tree lined amphitheatre sits concealing the masses of tour busses on the other side. The flexible event space can be used for all types of performances both day and night and can house up to 10,000 people.


The Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle was the only project of theirs that I had visited. I did not not know about the architects back then but distinctly remember what a great project it was. As an art lover its great to see art not just inside a gallery but outside for all to appreciate. The design by Weiss/Manfredi was the winner of an open international competition.  The original industrial site along the water comprised of three separate sites.


The design effectively connects all three sites creating an urban sculpture park emerging from the new landform. I remember starting at the top where the Art Museum was and making my way down to the water on this new landscape. Ideas of lateral forces unfolding to the waters edge and sectional changes shaped the ‘Z’ platform connecting the city to the water. An Alexander Calder sculpture stands proudly above the highway where it is also visible to drivers on the highway – could they be counted as visitors to the park? jokes Michael, pointing out how the park brings art outside the museum walls and into the landscape of the city.

Below are some of my own pictures taken during Spring break 2011 when I visited Seattle. It was a bright sunny day full of visitors and locals a like walking their dogs, jogging and enjoying the art and the view. A truly inspiring project by an inspirational duo.

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