Helmut Jahn ‘one of the great architects of our time’ known for his iconic Chicago buildings

by Jason Porterfield

Helmut Jahn at the groundbreaking for 1000M in October 2019.


Loved ones and admirers of the work of Chicago’s internationally renowned architect Helmut Jahn are mourning the passing of the 81-year-old designer of some of Chicagoland’s most iconic structures such as the James R. Thompson Center and United Airlines Terminal 1 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport

Jahn was fatally struck by two vehicles while bicycling on Sunday, May 9, in west suburban Campton Hills, according to multiple media reports.

David Frej (Otherwise, Inc.), Francis Greenburger (TEI) and Helmut Jahn at a VIP broker event in September 2017.

Through his work with his architecture firm, JAHN, he developed a reputation for progressive design that emphasized the elimination of inessential elements. He was committed to design excellence and to improving the urban environment. He taught at the University of Illinois Chicago Campus, Harvard University, Yale University and the Illinois Institute of Technology.

His ongoing projects included 1000M, a 74-story, luxury condo tower he designed to be built in the South Loop at 1000 S. Michigan Ave. The project broke ground in October 2019 and was expected to be completed in 2022 before work stalled last year due to the pandemic.

The developers behind the project are Oak Capital, JK Equities and Time Equities. Time Equities founder Francis Greenburger said in a statement that the development team will miss Jahn, but will carry his legacy forward with associates such as JAHN executive vice president Philip Castillo.

“I am extremely saddened by the loss of Helmut Jahn who I have had the privilege of working with for the last 15 years on multiple projects,”  Greenburger said. “He was clearly one of the great architects of his time and has left his imprint and legacy around the world. My heartfelt sympathies and condolences to his wife and family.”

James R. Thompson Center, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, photo submitted by Primeromundo

Born in Germany, Jahn graduated from the Technische Hochschule in Munich, according to the his firm’s website. He came to Chicago to study architecture at IIT under Ludwig Mies van der Rohe the firm C. F. Murphy Associates, in 1967. He worked under architect Gene Summers on the design for the new McCormick Place, which opened in 1971. The firm was renamed Murphy/Jahn in 1981 and became JAHN in 2012, according to the Chicago Architecture Center.

Jahn’s notable structures in Chicago include United Airlines Terminal 1 at O’Hare International Airport, the University of Chicago’s Mansueto Library, One South Wacker Drive, his 23-story addition to the Chicago Board of Trade and the James R. Thompson Center.

The Thompson Center, famous for its use of light and open space to represent good government, was recently put up for sale by the State of Illinois. The government building has been listed as one of Preservation Chicago’s most endangered historic structures four times in a row and made the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places” in 2019.

Walkway at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport designed by Helmut Jahn, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons by Paul VanDerWerf.

The future is also cloudy for 1000M. Jahn designed the tower to top out at a height of 832 feet and to include 506 units, with commanding views of Grant Park and Lake Michigan. Revised plans submitted in February include a height reduction to 73 stories and 805 feet, according to plans posted on the pro-growth website Chicago YIMBY. The number of units would increase from 506 to 738 and they would be rentals, rather than condos. The revised plans require approval by the Chicago Plan Commission and the Chicago City Council.

Outside Chicago, Jahn’s notable work includes One Liberty Place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; 50 West in New York, New York; the Sony Center in Berlin, Germany; and the Messeturm in Frankfurt, Germany.


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