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HELMUT JAHN
 
 
 
 
  Name   Helmut Jahn
       
  Born   January 4, 1940
       
  Died    
       
  Nationality   USA
       
  School    
       
  Official website   www.jahn-us.com
     
 
BIOGRAPHY        
   

The design work of Helmut Jahn has always engaged technology
at the center of architectural activity. His flamboyant personality
is duplicated in his later architectural design works, which have
shifted from a late-Miesian vocabulary to a Postmodern phase
characterized by high-tech stylizations. His rapid climb within
C.F. Murphy and Associates (founded 1937) put him in an
influential position to redefine the established firm’s exclusive
position in Chicago into a firm of international significance.
The most recent work incorporates the transparency of glass,
futuristic systems, and advanced ecological concerns that can be
traced to the technological imperative of his earliest works and
education.

After Jahn studied in Munich and at the Illinois Institute
of Technology (IIT), his work privileged the expression of the
mechanics of construction within the formalist idiom. Working
with Gene Summers, his first design work included the McCor-
mick Place Convention Center in Chicago (1970), a project
influenced by the detailing and structured space of Ludwig Mies
van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie (1965-68) in Berlin and
his unbuile project for a convention hall (1953) in Chicago.
Situated between Lake Michigan and Lake Shore Drive, the
gridded interior space is defined by a large-scale space frame
overhead, spanning the open plan of 150 feet with additional
75-foot cantilevers projecting over the exterior space. In 1973—
7A, Jahn designed the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri.

This project utilized three steel trusses to hang a roof over a
large oval-shaped athletic arena space and seating for 18,000
spectators. Suspended over a solid exterior cladding of insulated
metal panels and rounded corners, the project expresses a faith
in space-age technology. After this, he directed the design of
many large urban projects, including courthouses, libraries, con-
vention centers, and corporate office towers across the midwest-
ern United States, experimenting with this emergent style. The
works of the period 1974-78 exhibited a growing confidence
in the expressive use of primary colors and exposed technological
devices, in sympathy with the Archigram group in England.
Jahn was a member of the informal group of nascent voices
who called themselves the Chicago 7 since 1977. During this
period he began to participate in a larger discourse on the direc-
tion of architecture informed by the communicative and sym-
bolic functions of architecture. The work of Murphy/Jahn
turned from a strict interpretation of the technologically driven
design of the Miesian tradition and aligned itself with a rising
trend defined by critic Charles Jencks as Postmodernism. Jahn
acknowledged this perceptible shift in his work's meaning as a
new attitude allowing the firm to “free our skills to practice
architecture beyond a mere problem solving, functionalist meth-
odology, resulting in a pluralism, which is multi-directional, less
restrictive and less dogmatic, characterized bya loss of conviction
as to exclusivist principles and more communicative and user-
oriented.” This new emphasis on populism and pluralism in-
formed his subsequent urban projects as a directed search for
a “variable, wide-ranging architectural language.” The towers
proposed for the Xerox Center (Chicago, designed 1977, built
1980), the Chicago Board of Trade Addition (designed 1978,
buile 1982), the unbuilr Chicago Tribune Tower Late Entry

Competition (1979), the Northwestern Terminal (Chicago, de-
signed 1979, completed 1986), and One South Wacker (Chi-
cago, designed 1979, built 1981-82), utilized exterior curtain
walls of glass, reflective and selectively colored for ornamentation
distinctly different than the exhausted Miesian prototype of som-
ber discipline. The lobbies of these tall buildings express this
concern with populism and ornamentation in their simplified
echoes of Art Deco and art moderne precedents. Physically and
structurally dependent on earlier technology, these projects par-
ticipated in a larger cultural shift toward forms that recall the
past and break overall volume into subordinate masses. The
influence of the early pioneering phase of tall-building design
is recalled in a distinctly reductivist execution, achieving the
Postmodern goal of reconciling modernism to its historical past.
Ic is during this time that the preliminary design sketches and
representations of projects become self-conscious tools in the
development of style, where the explorations of “paper architec-
ture” appear transferred to the skins of the buildings.

This process is evident in the project submitted for the com-
petition for a tall building in Houston—the Bank of the South-
west Tower (1982). Here, the submitted drawings and design-
process sketches for an 82-story building reveal a search for an
appropriate style for the tall building in a city with much fewer
built precedents as context. The multiple studies range across
high-tech mechanical volumes to historically reminiscent stacked
and tiered forms following the base-shaft-top typology of the
early 20th century. The resulting submission utilizes masonry
cladding at the ground level, a clear prismatic solid shaft (with
Jahn’s frequent use of multicolored glass-curtain walls as decora-

tion), and a schematic top that mimics the Chrysler Building
(1930) in New York.

The most prominent commission of this period was for the
State of Illinois Center, later renamed the James R. Thompson
Center. Designed in 1979, it was finally constructed in May
1995. The program for the square site adjacent to City Hall
included over a million square feet of office and administrative
spaces for various branches of the State of Illinois government,
stations for subway and elevated trains, and retail at the plaza
level. The building's form has a large cylindrical rotunda 160
feet across rising all 17 floors to an inclined glass roof. It is an
internalized public space, animated by the flow of people and
sounds than the mannered exterior space. The vertical circula-
tion of elevators, escalators, and stairs move up through this
futuristic space that performs a valuable energy-conserving func-
tion. The overall building form is a quarter circle in plan, with
three faces built to the street lines, but the curved face that faces
the exterior plaza is inclined with three setbacks. The ground
level contains exterior cladding of pink and gray granite forming
a continuous arcade. The red, white, and blue glazing and metal
panels are a glib reference to its government function and employ
details from Jahn’s other tall buildings in Chicago. The Thomp-
son Center has received near-constant public criticism for its
expense, execution, and appearance.

Contemporaneous with these projects for tall buildings, a
significant series of commissions for the growing O’Hare Inter-
national Airport allowed Jahn to explore his vocabulary in a
radically different building type. Projects at O'Hare included
the Rapid Transit Station (designed 1979, built 1983) and the
award-winning United Airlines Terminal and Satellite Building
(buile 1985-87) arising from the successful proposal for the over-
all development of O'Hare in 1982, The airport’s growth con-
tinues, and Murphy/Jahn remains the primary architect of one
of the world’s largest airports. Accommodating over 40 new
ates and over a million square feet of circulation and supporting
facilities, this project was designed as two parallel linear systems
composed of a repetitive series of steel structural bays. The struc-
tural system is expressed in curved-steel arches and cross bracing
that incorporate mechanical modernist strategies from Victorian
influences. The successes of the project are its legibility, clarity,
and ease of movement through the vaulted space. Folded trusses
and four-post structural columns create human-scaled modules
of space in a vast project. Subterranean connections are designed
as moving walkways surrounded by kinetic light and sound
sculptures, an overt populist treatment of a potentially gloomy
space.
In 1985 three projects were designed for New York City: the
unbuilt tower for the New York City Coliseum at Columbus

Circle, the unbuilt Times Square redevelopment project, and
the City Spire Project (designed 1985, built 1985-89). The
recession of the late 1980s put an end to most large construction
in Chicago and other large American cities, and the office of
Murphy/Jahn responded by pursuing more international work.
Projects and competitions for Jahn’s native Germany and works
in Asia formed the basis of the late phase of 20th-century design
work for the firm. Two variations of the United Airlines Termi-
nal were proposed for the Consolidated Terminal for American
Airlines and Northwest Airlines (1988) at JFK International Air-
port in New York. A vast Second Bangkok International Airport
(designed 1995) was stopped because of public criticism over
cost and the absence of “Thai elements” in the design.

Jahn’s Messeturm (1988-91) in Frankfurt am Main, Ger-
many, was one of Europe’s tallest buildings, towering over the
sprawling city. Its design follows the logic of the earlier tall
buildings, with a historically informed silhouette. An adjoining
market hall for the Frankfurt fairgrounds (one of ten designed
by multiple architects) formally anticipates the later unsuccessful
Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Design Competition (1997)
for a new student center at the campus of Illinois Institute of
Technology (IIT). Across State Street from Mies’ $.R. Crown
Hall, Jahn designed State Street Village (2003), a set of residence
halls that face off with the Miesian legacy. These forms span
large blocks of programmatic space with a gracefully curved but
monolithic metal roof, a softening of the orthodoxy of the earli-
est works.

‘The most prominent and anticipated work of Murphy/Jahn
in the 1990s was the vast Sony Center (1995-2000) in Pots-
damer Platz, Berlin. This project, like many others, was initiated
ion the collapse of the Berlin Wall and a deliberate attempt by

the federal government of Germany to rebuild a totalizing urban
fabric across the barren areas created by the Cold War division
of the city. Potsdamer Platz received special attention, as its
prewar status as a vibrant urban center gave way in the 1950s
and 1960s to a vague territory of emptiness in the middle of
the city, desolate in comparison to the adjoining Tiergarten.
The overall master plan for the sites was won previously in a
competition by architect Renzo Piano, who was responsible for
overseeing all the new construction. Contemporaneous design
projects near Potsdamer Platz were done by established interna-
tional architects, including Rafael Moneo, Richard Meier, and
Daniel Libeskind.

Within the Sony complex, the ruins of the Grand-Hotel Es-
planade (1908-12, Otto Rehnig) were incorporated with some
difficulty: the “Emperor's Hall,” weighing 1300 tons, was raised
2.5 meters and transported 75 meters on rails to its final location
within the ensemble. The large office tower for Sony, executed
in a neomodern technique of technology, signifies the movement
away from the flagrant populism of earlier work and is remarka-
bly restrained and serious, in contrast with Jahn’s slender office
tower on Ku’damm. The concrete-frame construction of the
diverse program is clad in smooth glass skins to emphasize the
transparency of the volumes and the public space between them.

Major elements of the project pursue the historical function
of the site and the technology of the client as a public overture—
although now as useful themed functional space, not as privat-
ized icons. The Sony Center entertainment facilities include an
eight-screen multiplex cinema and an IMAX three-dimensional
theater. In accordance with the cinematic programming, the


Berlin Filmmuseum and the German Mediathek are joined with
an education facility, the Film and Television Academy Berlin,
the Filmlibrary, the Film Distribution House, and the programs
of the German Kinematheck. Restaurants and shops at ground
level, below-grade parking facilities, and a significant amount of
housing above ring the difficult triangular site. The project fol-
lows the Berlin model of perimeter block housing defining large
interior public spaces (here gardens and a formal paved plaza).
The most visible component of this mixed-use urban block is
the elliptical tensile construction echoing the tent forms of a
pre-cinematic form of popular entertainment: the circus.

The Hotel Kempinski (1993-94) near the Munich Airport
places hotel space aside a vast atrium with a thin overhead canopy
and all-glass entry facade designed to deflect up to one meter
with changing climatic conditions. The increasing reliance on
glass skins and exposed mechanical systems overtakes the earlier
strategies without stepping entirely away from the earliest for-
malism. Transparency is not pursued as an allegory of a transpar-
ent or democratic society but as a citation of the earliest experi-
ments in the potential of glass as a signifier of modernism, as
in the unbuile office towers proposed by Mies in the 1920s or
the socialist expressionism of Paul Scheerbart and Bruno Taut.
‘The literal transparency of glass in his last 20th-century work
shows a fusion of history and technology. As Wener Blaser has
stated, “Helmut Jahn has given the use of steel and glass in
architecture an exceptional technical and aesthetic articulation
that is inseparably associated with the concept of transparency.
Standing squarely in the tradition of the 19th century and yet
interested in the continued development of innovative facade

technologies, Jahn places the supporting steel structure of his
buildings on the outside. At the same time, he wraps his glass
skins around a light and weightless interior that acquires a special
force through effects of light and color.” (see Blaser, 1996) A
reliance on sophisticated technology, “high-tech” signature
pieces, “passive/active systems,” technical innovation, and an
emphasis on the image of technology are all manifest in the later
works, although they are implied in the imagery of the earliest.

THomas MicaL


 
 
 
 
 
 
TIMELINE        
    Born in Nuremberg, Germany, 4 January 1940; moved to the
United States in 1966. Attended the Technische Hochschule,
Munich 1960-65; degrees in architecture and engineering 1965;
studied under Myron Goldsmith and Fazlur Khan at the Illinois
Institute of Technology, Chicago 1966-67. Married Deborah
Ann Lampe 1970: 1 child. Worked with P.C. von Seidlein,
Munich 1965-66. Joined C.F. Murphy Associates, Chicago
1967; assistant to Gene Summers 1967-73; partner, director in
charge of planning and design, executive vice president 1973—
81. Principal, from 1981, president, from 1982, chief executive
officer, from 1983, Murphy/Jahn Associates, Chicago. Lecturer,
University of Illinois, Chicago 1981; Eliot Noyes Visiting De-
sign Critic, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
1981; Davenport Visiting Professor of Architectural Design,
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 1983; Thesis Profes-
sor, Illinois Institute of Technology 1989-92. Member, Chicago
7 from 1977; corporate member, American Institute of as
tects 1975. Chevalier, Ordre des Arts et Lettres 1988.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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