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Zenon Mazurkevich, Philadelphia architect known for beautiful churches, dies at 79

His passion was ecclesiastical architecture. A church he designed in Chicago has been called one of the nation's 10 most beautiful churches.

Architect  Zenon Mazurkevich
Architect Zenon MazurkevichRead moreMazurkevich family

Philadelphia architect Zenon Mazurkevich, 79, of Philadelphia, designer of a soaring Ukrainian Catholic church in Chicago that Architectural Digest last year called one of the nation's 10 most beautiful churches, died Friday, Oct. 26, of head trauma at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

He sustained the injury when he fell and struck a counter on Oct. 4 inside a Wawa near his office in Queen Village.

Among many buildings, Mr. Mazurkevich designed St. Joseph's the Betrothed Ukrainian Catholic Church, dubbed by Architectural Digest as a "Chicago landmark in its own right."  The ultramodern design, composed of glass, concrete, and steel, includes a central gold-domed tower, representing Christ, surrounded by 12 glass towers, representing his disciples.

Three-quarters of the building's exterior consists of curved windows.  It was one of the largest bent-glass projects in the country at that time. Mr. Mazurkevich said he also chose "the humblest of building materials, concrete," for the remainder of the church "because it has the touch of man."

Mr. Mazurkevich's other ecclesiastical architecture projects include St. Michael the Archangel Ukrainian Catholic Church in Baltimore; the Basilian Monastery in Glen Cove, N.Y.; and the Prayer Room at St. Basil Academy in Fox Chase.

"Building is defying gravity," he once noted. "I try to make what I design as light as possible. It seems to me that our buildings should be graceful, airy, a structural pirouette, and an inspiration to everyone who walks by."

Born in Roznitiv in Ukraine in 1939, Mr. Mazurkevich immigrated to Germany and then Canada.  After graduating from the University of Toronto in 1965 with a bachelor's degree in architecture, Mr. Mazurkevich moved to Chicago to work for modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.  Soon after, Mr. Mazurkevich joined the architectural firm of Skidmore Owings & Merrill, where he worked on the designs of 500 North Michigan Avenue, a prominent structure on Chicago's "Magnificent Mile"; the 100-story John Hancock Center in Chicago, the world's second-tallest skyscraper when built; and the old Spectrum arena in Philadelphia,

"Architecture is a tremendous influence on people's lives," Mr. Mazurkevich once said. "It is principally a cultural statement, telling us where we are at a particular time. And the purpose of any art is to enrich people's lives. In architecture you do that by expressing emotion and making something beautiful, not merely functional."

In 1967, Mr. Mazurkevich moved to Philadelphia to attend graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, earning master's degrees in architecture and city planning. After a period working in Detroit as an architect for Ford, Mr. Mazurkevich returned to Philadelphia in 1973 to open his own firm.

His area projects included the Pine Run Retirement Community in Doylestown, the Ukrainian Self-Reliance Federal Credit Union in Philadelphia, and the Fairview Plaza Building in Jenkintown.

Throughout his life, Mr. Mazurkevich studied religious architecture, his enduring creative passion.  "Church architecture is aesthetically functional more than anything else," he told the Chicago Tribune in an interview, "It probably is the last architecture … in which you can be exuberant."

Mr. Mazurkevich is survived by his wife, Ulana Baluch Mazurkevich, a restaurateur and human-rights activist; sons Marko and Dorian; and two grandchildren.

A memorial service will be in Chicago on Friday, Nov.  9, at 7 p.m., at Muzyka Funeral Home, 2157 W. Chicago Ave.  A Funeral Mass is to take place Saturday, Nov. 10, at 10:30 a.m. at St. Joseph's the Betrothed Ukrainian Catholic Church, the church he designed. Burial will follow at St. Nicholas Cemetery in Chicago.