On the Rise: Portrait of a Personal Practice

Young Architect of the Year. An award bestowed by the AIA to a registered architect under the age of 40 who displays excellence and promise of future merit in design excellence, professional practice, education, and service to the profession and society. KSS’s own Jordan Mrazik received this honor from AIA Philadelphia in 2018. As recipient of this award, Jordan’s work was featured in “On The Rise: Emerging Firms + Young Architects,” an exhibition at Philadelphia’s Center for Architecture + Design. During his lecture at the Center, Jordan explored his personal practice through the lens of three projects, each defined by distinct scales of community, setting, and range of media. 

Jordan’s ideas about architecture and society are rooted in his time as a student at Virginia Tech. His formal education—one focused on observation, documentation, and consideration for history—laid a foundation for Jordan’s practice. Outside the studio, Jordan struck up a friendship with a local farmer and soon found himself managing a one-and-half-acre garden and three greenhouses. While operating the stand at each week’s Farmer’s Market, Jordan gained exposure to a rural culture that placed strong emphasis on colloquialism, community, and vernacular custom. These experiences away from the drafting board profoundly affected his mode of thinking and permeated his architectural expression—one that respects and explores local craft while simultaneously questioning tradition’s application in a contemporary setting.

Regional Scale / Professional Setting

Express Newark, a 50,000-square-foot adaptive reuse joint-venture between Rutgers Newark and L+M Development Partners, “emerged from the people,” a true example of community driven architecture. Leaders from the arts community in Newark collaborated with Rutgers faculty to bridge their communities through a shared use, while simultaneously revitalizing a space that had been shuttered for over 20 years. Upon visiting the space once it was occupied, Jordan noted “we could no longer distinguish where art started and stopped.” Doodles on walls and artwork spilling out from studios into the corridors underscored the idea that architecture serves as a backdrop for community activation and ownership.

City Scale / Community Setting

A collaboration with studioRON and two KSS colleagues resulted in a bespoke furniture installation for the Bok Building’s rooftop bar. Formerly the Edward W. Bok Vocational School, the Bok Building has become a hub for a wide variety of artists, makers, and small businesses. Conceived as a “Boardwalk to Philadelphia,” the design imagined a new landscape at the intersection of beach and boardwalk. The team put in hours before and after work, and on the weekends, even participating in the fabrication process with studioRON. This depth of collaboration, beyond the typical “handing off” of a design for production, transcended expectations and individual abilities to create a placemaking design for a thriving arts community.

Neighborhood Scale / Personal Setting

The final project Jordan presented was a personal one, inspired by and created in his own neighborhood. In his time as a resident of the Bella Vista section of Southeast Philadelphia, Jordan has become captivated by the vernacular fiberglass awnings throughout the community. Jordan recreated these awnings in a gallery setting for display at the Da Vinci Art Alliance, a gallery just a block from his apartment. In place of formed aluminum and fiberglass, Jordan constructed awnings using fabric and plywood framing. With 300 individually hemmed pieces per awning, Jordan was forced to expand his skillset, intimately learning the ins and outs of the objects he was creating. This installation exposes the power of setting and materials to frame experience; when context and distinguishing characteristics are stripped away, the viewer is challenged to reconsider the awnings’ significance. Beloved awnings envision an after image of the neighborhood’s collective memory.

Together, these three projects are a manifestation of Jordan’s mode of architectural thought, founded in consideration for community, respect for collaboration, and blending technical and intellectual pursuits. Jordan adds to this well-rounded approach a contagious excitement about architecture that energizes our projects, our clients, and our firm. In his nearly seven years at KSS, Jordan has emerged as a thoughtful mentor and respected leader who actively elevates the firm through his project work, dedication to firm-wide education, and personal artistic endeavors.

 Photography courtesy of SHIFTSPACE