Helmut Jahn carried on Chicago’s legacy of architectural greatness

He was bold, inventive and prolific, designing memorable buildings across the nation and around the world.

SHARE Helmut Jahn carried on Chicago’s legacy of architectural greatness
Architect Helmut Jahn in 2000.

Architect Helmut Jahn at his Chicago offices in 2000.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

To admire Helmut Jahn’s boldly expressed buildings is to perceive a man of exceptional talent who both was nurtured by Chicago’s history of architectural greatness and contributed an enduring and inventive new chapter.

Editorials bug

Editorials

Jahn, who was killed in a bicycle crash Saturday in suburban Campton Hills near St. Charles, added path-breaking structural icons to Chicago’s storied architectural resume. Among them: the O’Hare Airport United Airlines terminal and its light-infused moving walkway, the 120 N. LaSalle building, State Street Village at the Illinois Institute of Technology, the Art Deco-themed addition to the Chicago Board of Trade, the Accenture Tower and others, including the endangered James R. Thompson Center, with its pioneering curvilinear exterior and dramatic interior atrium.

Jahn was instrumental in the creative design of the second McCormick Place, now called Lakeside Center. More recently, he designed a spectacular skyscraper for 1000 S. Michigan Ave. that, though halted by the pandemic, will be his tallest building in the city if completed.

He was prolific, designing memorable buildings across the nation and world, including 1999 K Street in Washington, D.C., the blue-glass-and-granite Liberty Place in Philadelphia, Thyssenkrupp Test Tower in Rottweil, Germany, the Messeturm in Frankfurt, Germany, and the Sony Center in Berlin. His O’Hare terminal tour de force informed designs of new airport terminals — no longer just practical boxes — around the world.

“Jahn spoke with a clear voice, one that allowed for a celebration and the manipulation of steel and glass,” Joey Korom, a Chicago architecture critic and author of “The American Skyscraper 1850-1940: A Celebration of Height,” said on Monday.

Opinion Newsletter

Jahn, who was born in Germany, came to Chicago to study at IIT with renowned architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, beginning an exceptionally long and influential career at the forefront of postmodern architecture. His ouvre never was defined by a single decade.

To Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, Jahn was a worthy member of Chicago’s venerated club of remarkable architects, adding to the city’s status as a global center of architecture.

“He really brought that postmodern movement to the city,” Miller said, “yet some of his buildings had the guidelines and principles of his training at IIT.”

Long before Helmut Jahn ever arrived, Chicago was a celebrated stage for world-class architecture. Jahn belonged on that stage — he knew it — and he proved it for half a century.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

The Latest
Jonathan Vallejo, 38, of River Grove, suffered multiple gunshot wounds in the Friday shooting and was pronounced dead at Lutheran General Hospital, the Cook County medical examiner’s office said.
Philadelphia’s Tyrese Maxey jumped into the national spotlight this season, becoming an All-Star, leading the 76ers to the playoffs and edging out White for the league award.
Funeral services for Huesca will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Rita of Cascia Catholic Church at 7740 S. Western Ave. in Chicago, according to the Fraternal Order of Police.
Castaways Beach Club, formerly Castaways Bar & Grill, closed for renovations last summer. A refresh features an updated menu and renovations costing more than $3 million.
The Cubs also put lefty Drew Smyly on the IL, DFA’d Garrett Cooper and recalled Hayden Wesneski, Matt Mervis and Luke Little.