Helmut Jahn, ‘Conference-Busting’ Architect, Dies at 81

Helmut Jahn, ‘Convention-Busting’ Architect, Dies at 81

Helmut Jahn, a German-born architect who designed buildings around the world but was most influential in his adopted home of Chicago, where he built an extravagant downtown home for the state government and the United Airlines terminal at O'Hare International Airport died on Saturday in a traffic accident near the horse farm he lived on in St. Charles, Illinois. He was 81 years old.

His wife Deborah (lamp) Jahn confirmed the death. He had been riding a bike in the suburbs of Campton Hills when he was hit by two cars going in opposite directions. A press release from the local police authority said that Mr. Jahn could not brake at a stop sign.

A modernist who began a long flirtation with postmodernism in the 1970s, Mr. Jahn (pronounced “Yahn”) designed the Xerox Center, an elegant 45-story office tower with a glass and aluminum curtain wall, a rounded corner, and a two-story street frontage that billows inward and opened in Chicago & # 39; s Loop in 1980.

In 1982 Newsweek called Mr. Jahn the "Flash Gordon of American Architecture". Three years later GQ showed it on its cover and wore a dashing Fedora with the headline "Helmut Jahn has a building complex".

In the accompanying article, famous architect Philip Johnson called Mr. Jahn "a real genius" and "a comet that twinkles in the sky," although he added, "I don't know about him yet."

By that time, construction of Mr. Jahn's futuristic design of the State of Illinois Center – a government and retail complex – in the middle of the loop was almost complete. The facade is a mixture of reflective bluish-turquoise glass; Inside the circular atrium is a mix of salmon-colored and blue metal panels. Multi-colored granite lines the base.

In his 1985 New York Times review, architecture critic Paul Goldberger said that the "squat shape of the complex tumbling around a corner in a 16-story curve is part Pompidou Center, part Piranesi, and part kitsch revival 1950s. He added, "It is not surprising that even this relatively refined city has become breathless."

The response to Mr. Jahn's Chicago building ranged from "dazzling" to the critical observation that it "has nothing to do with anything else in all of Western civilization".

Mr. Jahn had nothing against the criticism. "I'd rather people talk about buildings than say, 'Well, that's just another building I haven't seen," he told GQ.

In 1987 the United Terminal One opened, an extensive homage to the train stations of the 19th century. A riot of glass and exposed steel scaffolding, it has curves that allow for different ceiling heights and black and white floors with red stitching.

Paul Gapp, the architecture critic of The Chicago Tribune, called it "one of the most aesthetically extraordinary terminals in the nation". In The Times, Goldberger wrote that it was "the most ambitious effort in airport architecture" since Eero Saarinen's designs for Washington's Dulles International Airport and the T.W.A. Flight center at Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Helmut Jahn was born on January 4, 1940 in Nuremberg and grew up in a nearby suburb. His father Wilhelm was a special educator. His mother, Lena (Werth) Jahn, was a housewife.

As a boy, Helmut loved drawing and painting, but aspired to become an airline pilot. "But he wasn't very good at languages, which disqualified him as a pilot for Lufthansa," said his wife, "so he decided on architecture because it involved a lot of drawing."

After graduating from the Technical University in Munich, he earned a master's degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture. After graduating in 1967, he was hired by Gene Summers, formerly the right man of the modernist giant Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, at the venerable Chicago architecture firm C.F. Murphy Associates.

With Mr. Summers, Mr. Jahn helped design the new McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago, replacing the one destroyed by fire in 1967. In 1973, when Mr. Summers left, Mr. Jahn became the company's director of planning and design.

In 1974, the Kemper Arena (now Hy-Vee Arena) in Kansas City, Missouri, opened with a modernist design by Mr. Jahn that included a roof suspended from external steel trusses – not the traditional internal pillars – and offered unobstructed views. But five years later the roof collapsed in a rainstorm.

It was found that the failure was caused by the breakage of high-strength screws that helped hang the roof.

1981 Murphy Associates Murphy / Jahn; A year later, Mr. Jahn became president of the company and acquired it in 1983. In 2012 it was renamed Jahn.

Based on the State of Illinois Center's design (which was renamed the James R. Thompson Center for the Republican Governor of Illinois who supported it), Mr. Jahn worked with Donald J. Trump to design a 150-story tower that that would have been the centerpiece of a mega-complex on the west side of Manhattan called Television City.

That plan never came to fruition, and the site later became a reduced development called Riverside South.

Jahn's other Manhattan projects included the 70-story CitySpire in Midtown behind the city center and 425 Lexington Avenue, which architecture critic Carter Horsley dismissed in 1987 in The City Review for its "roto-rooted top" looked like a " crushed slide for the unbridled upward thrust of the Chrysler Building just across 43rd Street ".

Other major designs by Mr. Jahn included designs for One Liberty Place, the tallest building in Philadelphia at the time of its completion in 1990; the Sony Center in Berlin (2000); Apartments in Warsaw (2013); and 50 West Street, a luxury condominium tower in Lower Manhattan.

Back in Chicago, he designed the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library at the University of Chicago (2011) with an elliptical 40-foot high dome that covers a 180-seat reading room and an underground automated storage and retrieval machine.

Critic Blair Kamin wrote in The Chicago Tribune describing the library as a "blasting marvel" that "students seem to love because it lets natural air in and clears them from the dimly-lit reading rooms of the university."

Mr. Jahn worked on drafts until the end of his life.

"He was so obsessed with doing his job," Ms. Jahn said over the phone. “It was just a one-man show. He had so many ideas in mind. "

In addition to his wife, whom he met as an interior designer for McCormick Place, his son Evan, a partner in the company, Mr. Jahn, survived. two granddaughters; and a brother, Otmar.

Long after its completion, the 17-story Thompson Center was a valued historic property on Mr. Jahn's résumé. Over the years, governors have talked about selling it to developers who might destroy it and build a new office tower.

"He was very upset about it," said Ms. Jahn. "It was his hope to save it."

Earlier this month, Governor J. B. Pritzker's administration accelerated the process and sent developers a call for proposals to sell the building, which was deemed too costly to maintain.

Last year, Mr Jahn suggested saving the building by adapting it to new offices, a hotel and apartments, and building an office tower on the southwest corner of West Randolph and North LaSalle Streets. He also suggested removing the building's front doors and turning the huge atrium into a covered outdoor area.

"Not only would it take a long time to demolish and replace it would seek high density without considering the public benefits," he wrote in his proposal. We don't need larger buildings, but buildings that improve public space. "


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