James O. Kruhly, award-winning architect, artist, and teacher, has died at 76


James O. Kruhly, 76, of Philadelphia, award-winning architect, artist, teacher, and lecturer, died Tuesday, Oct. 17, of heart failure at Bryn Mawr Hospital.

A lifelong artist and designer of structure and space, Mr. Kruhly established James Oleg Kruhly and Associates in 1977, renamed it Kruhly Architects, and spent more than four decades designing and restoring homes, churches, libraries, museums, office buildings, banks, restaurants, schools, and other structures and spaces.

He favored natural materials, stressed environmental responsibility, and valued context, simplicity, openness, and light. He said on his website: “There is always an overall integrity in the relationship between functional, programmatic, environmental, and contextual needs.”

His work appears in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Ohio, Connecticut, Belgium, and elsewhere. He designed the award-winning Pasquerilla Spiritual Center at Pennsylvania State University, added to the historic Thomas Walter building in Society Hill, and restored the Odd Fellows building in West Chester.

Of his many private home projects, his 1989 redesign of adjoining trinities in Center City earned that year’s Great American Home Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It was also featured in Leslie Plummer Clagett’s 2003 book The New City Home: Smart Design for Metro Living.

He even designed decorative table runners for restaurants, made furniture, painted on the side, and created “Into the Light,” the 16-foot mural that stands behind the altar in the main space at Penn State’s Pasquerilla center.

Mr. Kruhly won more than a dozen awards, including the 1990 Gold Medal from the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and a 1985 Design Award from the Pennsylvania Society of Architects. In 1992, the AIA cited his “originality, subtlety and quiet excellence” in electing him a fellow.

He was a visiting professor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, Temple and Drexel Universities, the University of Southern California, and elsewhere around the country and in England. He lectured extensively in the United States, England, France, Austria, and Hungary.

He was inspired by fellow Philadelphian Louis Kahn and was quoted often in The Inquirer, Daily News, and elsewhere. Thomas Hine, former Inquirer architecture critic, said in 1991 that Mr. Kruhly’s “master plan for the Philadelphia Cricket Club is an intriguing exercise in trying to build a lot of new space in a bastion of tradition without anyone’s noticing.”

In 1984, he redesigned a small house on the Main Line for Michelle Osborn, former architecture critic for the Bulletin and USA Today, and she said: “In short, to use Louis Kahn’s phrase, Jim made the house ‘what it wanted to be.’”

James Oleg Kruhly was born Aug. 11, 1947, in Bayreuth, Germany. His family traveled from Russia to Ukraine to Germany and arrived in the United States in 1950.

He grew up in the Olney section of Philadelphia, was a standout student, and graduated from Cardinal Dougherty High School. He showed an early aptitude for art, and his sister, Louise Kruhly Paparone, said he depicted the blessed mother Mary and baby Jesus so well in a drawing that the nuns displayed it in the convent.

He liked cars and considered at first working as an automobile designer. But he could not deny the beauty he saw in buildings and their spaces as he walked the streets of Philadelphia. So he studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1969.

He worked on projects with firms in New York, competed for commissions in Europe, and earned a master’s degree in architecture at Yale University in 1973. He married Leslie Laird in 1974, and they had son Alexander and daughter Madeleine, and lived mostly in Center City. They divorced later.

Mr. Kruhly sang in the chorus at Yale, read Russian poetry, listened to Van Morrison songs, and won waltz contests with his sister. He liked to quote his favorite people, and his sister said: “There was a magnetism about him that drew people to him.”

He was friendly and optimistic, spiritual and grateful. He son marveled at his “courage, resilience, dignity.” His daughter said: “Above all else, he was a father who loved proudly and fiercely.”

Mr. Kruhly lived with Parkinson’s disease for a time, and told his son in a personal note: “I simply do not want to spend the last 20 years sitting in my armchair rereading the 12 volumes of Pushkin. I still want to dance and carouse and chase. When that ends, I will try to invent something new.”

In addition to his children, sister, and former wife, Mr. Kruhly is survived by other relatives.

Private services were held Tuesday, Oct. 24.

Donations in his name may be made to Pennsylvania Diversity Children’s Organization, 2337 Philmont Ave., Suite 106, Huntingdon Valley, Pa. 19006.

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