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April 15, 2016

Five for Friday: Architectural designer Jared Edgar McKnight

Designer dishes on his big AIA award

Design Five for Friday
041416_JaredMcKnight_Carroll.jpg Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Architectural designer, Jared Edgar McKnight at the newly-renovated Center / Architecture + Design.

When the American Institute of Architects brings its 2016 convention to Philadelphia next month, tens of thousands of builders, makers and doers will descend upon the city to host a slew of events. Kevin Spacey will even be in town to give a keynote speech (yes, really).

But among the whirlwind of events set to take place, one of Philly's own will be taking home a big honor. Jared Edgar McKnight, an architectural designer at Wallace Roberts & Todd in Philadelphia, will receive the 2016 AIA Associates Award. McKnight is being honored for his commitment to his profession and the communities it serves. He is currently Associate Director on AIA Philadelphia’s Board of Directors, on the Board of Directors for the Friends of Louis I. Kahn Park and co-chair for CANstruction Philadelphia, an organization that raises funds and food for Philabundance. caught up with McKnight before the convention to figure out how he does it all. 

How does it feel to receive the 2016 AIA Associates Award?

I am extremely humbled to receive the 2016 AIA Associates Award, to be honest, I think I am still in shock. My overriding ambition has always been to have a profound and lasting impact on the people, projects, and places where I work, so it is a great honor to receive this recognition from the AIA. Moreover, I am overwhelmed to be able to accept the award in Philadelphia during the AIA National Convention this May. I have always been a motivated and involved individual, but when I moved to Philadelphia in 2011, I didn’t have a set plan beyond receiving my Masters of Architecture degree. Looking back now, the last five years have afforded me so many amazing opportunities academically, professionally, and in my many commitments to local organizations, nonprofits and the Philadelphia community, so to receive this recognition in my own backyard will be an extra special honor.

What are you most looking forward to about the AIA Convention?

I always look forward to reconnecting with colleagues and friends from across the country, and meeting new colleagues, but without giving too much away, I think I am most excited for the wide range of opportunities for the AIA Convention attendees to experience our great city of Philadelphia. 

From the many dynamic and engaging tours of the City (you may even catch me helping to lead some of the Running Tours organized by our Regional AIA Associate Director, Jana Brink; and for the social media fans out there, be sure to check out the PEA City-Wide Scavenger Hunt on Instagram) to the immense amount of work that our AIA Philadelphia chapter and community has been putting into organizing and planning events for the Convention under the direction of our amazing Convention Chair, Soha St. Juste, and our AIA Philadelphia Executive Director, Rebecca Johnson (including a brand new Exhibit and Lounge in our newly renovated Center / Architecture + Design, and a line of parklets down Arch Street in front of the Center), the 2016 AIA Convention is sure to have something for everyone.

You participate in so many community programs, both within your industry and in Philly at large. What projects are you working on right now that you’re excited about?

I have been asked on multiple occasions (and always in this order): 1) Do you sleep? 2) Do you have a social life? and 3) How do you do it all? And my answers are generally: 1) Yes, 2) Of course, and 3) I invest my time in organizations and programs that mean something to me personally, and where I believe I can have the most impact. So much of what I do is about balance. Of the many projects I am currently working on, I think I am most excited about three of them. 

First, the Philadelphia Emerging Architects Committee. This year, I am serving as the inaugural co-chair of this committee, but over the course of the last year, a group of amazingly talented and dedicated young leaders has worked to form this new organization for all emerging professionals in Architecture and Design in the city of Philadelphia. By merging two of AIA Philadelphia’s most active young committees, this new committee is bound to be an amazing resource for all members, offering over 36 programs throughout the year. 

Secondly, CANstruction Philadelphia. This year marks the 10th “CANniversary” of CANstruction Philadelphia, and over the last nine years, this event has donated over 340,000 pounds of food and over $38,000 to Philabundance. As co-chair of this amazing event, with my colleague and close friend Kelly Edwards, over the last five years, I have been fortunate to work with hundreds of local volunteers, and see firsthand the results of this amazing endeavor. 

Finally, as a member of the Board of Directors for the Friends of Louis I. Kahn Park in my neighborhood, I am truly excited to be working with our Friends group and the city of Philadelphia and Philadelphia Parks and Recreation on a variety of Park Improvement initiatives to improve the furnishings and signage in the only Park in Philadelphia dedicated to the memory of a famous local architect.

What new development in Philadelphia are you most excited about?

It is such an incredible time to live and work in Philadelphia. The city is experiencing a lot of exciting development and transformation, but I think I am most excited by the prospect of Mayor Kenney’s initiative to improve the city’s parks, recreation centers and libraries. Neighborhood parks and recreation centers are the heart and soul of many of our Philadelphia neighborhoods, and they deserve to be improved and maintained as resources for our local communities. Philadelphia has such an amazing system of parks and public spaces, and I can only hope that Mayor Kenney is successful in continuing to push this initiative into action. 

Additionally, I am always excited by the work being done by the Center City District to enhance our downtown, the Community Design Collaborative to strengthen our neighborhoods through design, the many local Friends groups for our city’s great parks, including the Friends of the Rail Park and the future of the Reading Viaduct, and a little closer to home, I am extremely excited by a few WRT projects that are currently in the works for Philadelphia (stay tuned)!

What is your favorite architectural project that you’ve worked on?

I have been extremely fortunate to gain exposure to a variety of amazing projects in my young career. I started my professional career in Philadelphia with WRT in July 2012, and since then, I have worked with an amazing team of individuals. My favorite project to date has been the Hoover-Mason Trestle in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. From our incredibly talented collaborative design team (Antonio Fiol-Silva, FAIA, AICP, LEED AP BD+C; Keiko Cramer, ASLA; Karen Blanchard, AIA, LEED AP BD+C; myself, and our many other amazing contributors and team members at WRT and beyond), to our client Tony Hanna and the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Bethlehem, for me, this project was the epitome of a “dream project.” 

The Hoover-Mason Trestle [HMT], originally an elevated rail line that delivered the raw materials to produce steel until Bethlehem Steel closed its doors in 1995, reopened in June 2015 as a repurposed 1/3-mile-long elevated pedestrian promenade and public space. Much like the original Hoover-Mason Trestle worked as a component of the much larger Bethlehem Steel plant system, the reinvented and repurposed HMT was designed to serve the community of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, by preserving the history and integrity of the magnificent site, and by allowing visitors, including an entire legacy of former Bethlehem Steel workers and their families, the opportunity to once again stand at the foot of the iconic Bethlehem Steel blast furnaces from atop the HMT. The project has been an extremely successful addition to Bethlehem’s Steel Stacks Arts and Cultural campus, and I truly encourage anyone traveling to the Bethlehem area to stop and experience it firsthand.