Who is Helmut Jahn?

11 January 2018

Helmut Jahn O'Hare International Airport
The tunnel between United Concourses B and C at O’Hare International Airport, which incorporates neon lighting into its design. Photo Credit: Rainer Viertlböck

You’ve likely encountered his work before while traversing the city of Chicago, but who is Helmut Jahn?  A creative powerhouse and dedicated craftsman, he’s one of the leading minds in today’s architectural elite.  Helmut Jahn’s architecture spans Chicago; he’s created notable buildings all over the city, in addition to his work across the rest of the country and abroad.  Now he brings his passion for beauty to 1000M, to craft one of the most noteworthy new skyscrapers on the cultural mile.

Jahn was born in Nuremberg, Germany to a schoolteacher who hoped his son would follow in his footsteps.  But Jahn showed an affinity for drawing at a young age, and went to Munich to study architecture before immigrating to Chicago in 1966.  It was while he attended the Illinois Institute of Technology that Jahn was exposed to one of his earliest career influences, the work of modernist Mies van der Rohe.  In 1967, Jahn began work at CF Murphy Associates, now simply known as JAHN, rising to become president and CEO, and it’s where he’s remained ever since.

Helmut Jahn’s Connection to Chicago

Helmut Jahn has designed memorable and impressive works in major cities across the world, including the Sony Center in Berlin, the Japan Post Tower in Tokyo, 50 West Street in New York City, and MesseTurm in Frankfurt. Yet, his architecture practice maintains a close connection with the city of Chicago. Despite his global footprint, the heart of his firm has always remained here.  In a recent interview with Archinect, Jahn describes Chicago as “my home – it’s where I started my career.”  His influence on the city’s architecture is hard to ignore.  In fact, even the state of Illinois itself has felt the impact of his design – the state department offices are housed in Jahn’s iconic Thompson Center.  It’s a testament to Jahn’s work that a 13-minute short film has been dedicated to the building after Gov. Rauner announced his plan to sell the property.

Helmut Jahn Thompson Center
A rendering of proposed revisions to the Thompson Center.

But the state building is not Jahn’s only contribution to Chicago’s architectural landscape.  He’s responsible for a number of buildings across the city, including 500 W Madison, a modernist skyscraper, State Street Village, a newer resident hall located at Jahn’s alma mater, 120 N Lasalle, a high-rise office building notable for its mosaic of Icarus and Daedalus above the entranceway, and now 1000M, among others.

Helmut Jahn Chicago Board of Trade
The interior of the Chicago Board of Trade Addition. Photo Credit: Rainer Viertlböck

Jahn rose to fame at a time when postmodern architecture was at its peak.  An irreverent yet impactful mixture of modern and historical elements characterized the scene, and Helmut Jahn’s work in Chicago exemplifies this style.  His design for the United Airlines Terminal at O’Hare International Airport combines arching glass and steel with creative lighting to evoke a Victorian railway station brought to the modern age.  Salmon pink and bright blue compliment the airy atrium of the Thompson Center, and its curved design calls to mind ancient coliseums.  His work on the Chicago Board of Trade Addition makes reference to the art deco movement of the 1920s and 1930s, yet retains a modern aspect, thanks to Jahn’s signature glass styling.  There was no architect in Chicago more adept at navigating the postmodern era, and Jahn’s personal aesthetic, which favored double-breasted Italian suits and foreign sports cars, was indicative of his appreciation for beauty and his bold approach to design.

Helmut Jahn United terminal at O'Hare International Airport
The United terminal at O’Hare International Airport. Photo Credit: Rainer Viertlböck

Helmut Jahn’s Vision for 1000M

Naturally, only such a visionary architect could bring 1000M’s “seek beauty” mantra to life.  Inspired by the “intersection of nature and city,” Jahn’s design encapsulates both efficiency and style, gradually widening at the top to provide expansive views of Grant Park and Lake Michigan. It’s a design that immediately stands out, and carries the unmistakable stamp of Jahn’s flair for daring and beautiful work.

The location especially appealed to Jahn – marrying the beauty of architecture to that of nature was easily done with such a backdrop.  What began as a stacked base for the building transitioned to a gently sloping design over the course of the planning phase, giving 1000M a slim yet striking profile in glittering glass.

To Jahn, the importance of beauty cannot be overstated.  Likening the building to a jewel in a recent video interview, he notes that “[a] sensuous building is something you want to touch, and [1000M is] sensuous, but it’s tough. The two go along with each other, too. It has to do with the materials. It’s the way it’s detailed.”  The glittering, jewel-like nature of 1000M is indicative of Jahn’s more recent work that strives to let the materials take center stage by removing unnecessary details.

1000M Luxury Condos Chicago by Helmut Jahn
Jahn describes 1000M as sensuous, but tough.

That early design inspiration from van der Rohe has morphed into a distinctive style all Jahn’s own.  As he tells Archinect, “[w]e always, especially after the postmortem time, put a lot of emphasis on what we call the ‘archineering’, the integration of architecture and engineering.”  To Jahn, a beautiful building is not successful if it lacks function.  Jahn’s irreverent approach to architecture that characterized his early career has mellowed to a sensibility that focuses on exceptional engineering above all.  1000M embodies this philosophy, allowing residents to build a home surrounded by one of the most beautiful locations the city has to offer.

To Jahn, crafting buildings that fit seamlessly into their particular urban landscape is an art.  With 1000M, he hopes to bring that level of craftsmanship to the Cultural Mile and to 1000M’s future residents.

Want to hear Jahn discuss 1000M in more detail? Listen to our interview with him.

Video link

Follow us @1000MChicago.