Designed to revive

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jared Edgar McKnight remembers tagging along with his grandmother, real estate agent Virginia Erb, to staging sessions or showings during summers spent in Hollidaysburg as a child. She would encourage his interest in drawing the houses, but she also had him take note of how she would try to sell the house to people based on how they would make use of the spaces within it.

Many years later, that still resonates with the Penn State and Schreyer Honors College alumnus, who is now an associate and designer at WRT in Philadelphia.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of the projects that take an underused space and make it something new, refresh it, revitalize it,” McKnight said.

That includes McKnight’s first project at WRT — the redesign of the Hoover-Mason Trestle, which converted the site of the iconic steel plant in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to an elevated park and pedestrian walkway. McKnight’s firm won the proposal for the trestle shortly after he began work there, and over the next three and a half years, he worked as a designer on the project, which he believes set the foundation for his future work.

“I think it really influenced the way that I look at the process of designing, especially having that knowledge of what you need to have in order to go into construction,” said McKnight, the winner of the 2016 American Institute of Architects National Associates Award. “A lot of what we do is about storytelling and visioning. Making sure that story and vision is something very clear you can carry through from concept to construction is one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned throughout my time working here.”

McKnight recently spent a week in Japan working on a project that involves turning a shopping complex parking lot into a park and an open space.

“It’s a typology that is very rare here in the States,” he said. “What the client found was that while people love the convenience of being able to park right next to the store that they’re visiting, giving people a public space, in this instance a park, at that destination encourages them to stay longer, spend more time outside, and do more shopping.”

Like many of the projects McKnight has been drawn to, it incorporates elements of both landscape architecture and architectural design and finds a way to repurpose an underutilized space.

“I think all of us can sense when we’re uncomfortable in a certain space, and I think that’s the power of design,” McKnight said. “It can actually make you feel.

“I’m always analyzing the spaces around me. I’m always looking at things on any scale. I’m very influenced by the spaces that I enjoy being in, whether that’s the proportions of a room or space to the proportions of a bench that I’m sitting on. I’m always analyzing things because if something’s comfortable to me, it very well may be uncomfortable to someone else, but I am definitely influenced by the spaces where I experience comfort.”

A member of the Lion Ambassadors, Penn State’s student alumni corps, and the Schreyer Honors College Student Council, McKnight graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture Degree with Distinction and Honors and a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies Degree in 2011. He makes regular return visits to his alma mater, including this past December for reviews of architecture students, and he recently won the Schreyer Honors College Outstanding Scholar Alumnus Award.

“I always have to remind people that when I was a freshman at Penn State, I barely spoke,” McKnight said, laughing. “I was probably one of the shyest kids in the world. What Schreyer did for me on a personal level was it taught me to be confident in who I am, because it gave me so many opportunities to sort of look at who I was outside of my comfort zone and push me to try to take on new experiences.”

McKnight also took an interest in philanthropy with him when he left Penn State. As the event chair for AIA Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Center for Architecture and Design’s largest philanthropic event, CANstruction Philadelphia, he led an effort which has helped to raise more than 175,000 pounds of food and $30,000 over the last five years for Philabundance, the Delaware Valley’s largest hunger relief organization.

And he still enjoys his visits with his grandmother. McKnight recently took her on a tour — a showing, if you will — of the Hoover-Mason Trestle.

“It was such a wonderful experience, getting to show her how people experience something I had helped to design,” he said.

Last Updated February 16, 2017