Jonathan Kurtz, Architect

2012 Emerging Prize for Architecture

Does being born in a cabin in the woods 90 miles north of Fort St. John, the nearest town in British Colombia, Canada, destine you for a career in architecture? Not necessarily. But for Jonathan Kurtz, AIA, principal, Westlake Reed Leskosky architectural firm in Cleveland, it was a romantic way to start a life and a great way to open a conversation.

He actually doesn’t remember a lot about it, since he was only three when his parents bought a house in Hartville, Ohio, and returned to their original Mennonite and Amish community. That heritage, he believes, and the importance it places on building skills have more to do with his eventual career choice. For example, as a child, he spent a lot of time helping his father, an all-purpose maintenance man, install boilers or repair ductwork or plumbing.

“When I was working with my dad, he’d let me know if I wasn’t turning a screwdriver the correct way,” says Jonathan, adding with a laugh that it was always in an instructive way. “So I absorbed the Mennonite work ethic and belief that whatever you put your hand to, do it with all your might.”

His fledgling construction skills were complemented and enhanced by his art classes in school, where he acquired drawing skills. A burgeoning interest in architecture as a possible field led Jonathan to apply to the School of Architecture at nearby Kent State University, where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 2000 and added his Bachelor of Architecture with Honors a year later.

A year before he graduated, he was recruited by one of his professors, Thom Stauffer (CAP 2002), to work in his firm, where he began to learn what it meant to realize a project and see it through from concept to design to completed construction.

Thirsty for more knowledge about his chosen field, Jonathan applied to Harvard University Graduate School of Design, where he earned his Master in Architecture with Distinction in 2004. In 2003, he worked as an intern at a firm in Boston, and then after graduating moved to an internship with a firm in New York City.

While he was at Harvard, Thom Stauffer had informed Paul Westlake (CAP 1995), FAIA, managing principal of Westlake Reed Leskosy, of his promising former student and intern. Westlake then contacted him to explore a possible job. At first, Jonathan was more interested in staying with an East Coast firm, but soon the opportunity at WRL became too good to forego, so he returned to Cleveland and joined the firm in 2004.

Since then, Jonathan has collected more than 15 design awards, his proud boss points out, in less than ten years. Most recently, he won the Slavic Village, Broadway Arch Competition, with construction expected this year. His design for the New York City AIDS Memorial Competition came in second out of 400. Recently, he was recognized by Building Design + Construction in the magazine’s annual “40 under 40” competition.

His inventive design for the Bertram and Judith Kohl Building for the Music Conservatory at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, has won several local and regional American Institute of Architects design awards and a Cleveland Engineering Society Award. “I was there taking pictures,” the young architect recalls about a recent visit. “One of the guitar professors walked by and said, ‘Hey, Jonathan, still love the building,’ so it’s always a good feeling when the end users are comfortable in the space.”

“Jonathan works very differently than most designers I’ve worked with,” Paul Westlake states. “He comes up with site-specific solutions that are unexpected and unique, yet profoundly logical and intelligent.”

Jonathan is currently designing a performing arts center for Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. At this point in his career, though, the Kohl Building, which was completed in 2010, is his most fully realized and now signature work.

“There were high expectations and aspirations for that project,” Jonathan says. “So to have those materialize in a concrete, built work certainly has been the most significant aspect of my career so far.”

Cleveland Arts Prize
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