Helmut Jahn, born on 4 January 1940 in Zirndorf near Nuremberg, became famous above all for his designs for high-rise buildings and office towers – including the Xerox Center in the heart of Chicago’s Loop, considered an early masterpiece. He had a preference for slender American vertical buildings. His specialities also included airports, which he staged as cathedrals of mobility with wide-span supporting structures.
Jahn’s role model in architecture was initially Mies van der Rohe, whom he had met as a student in Chicago in the mid-1962s. In 1967, Jahn became an assistant to Gene Summers and an employee of the Chicago architectural firm C. F. Murphy Associates, where he rose to the position of president in 1982. Murphy had planned the Federal Center in Chicago together with van der Rohe, for example. While Jahn’s early buildings were characterised by echoes of the philosophy of the Less-is-more of post-war modernism, he was subsequently able to step out of Mies’ long shadow and reinterpret the formal language of modernism in a postmodern way. Not all of his buildings created in the course of the postmodern awakening were well received by critics. Nevertheless, he rose to become one of the few German architects of world fame.
In addition to the Messeturm, completed in 1991, which, at 256.5 metres, dominates the Frankfurt skyline in the west like a sentinel, the Sony Center in Berlin, the Post Tower in Bonn and the Highlight Towers in Munich are among his best-known buildings in this country. Jahn coined the term “archineering” for the interaction of architecture and technology – together with Werner Sobek, for example, Jahn developed large glass-fibre membrane roofs that span public spaces. The “ultimate building”, according to Jahn, “would be one that offers all comforts with an architecture that serves and disappears at the same time”. Last Saturday, Helmut Jahn died in a bicycle accident in Campton Hills, a Chicago suburb, at the age of 81.
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