Helmut Jahn is a German-American architect who is one of the most celebrated and recognized in his profession. He heads one of the largest international architectural firm’s in the world.
Born in Nuremberg, Germany in 1940, Jahn attended the Technical University of Munich before working with the renowned Peter C. von Seidlein for a year. In 1996, he immigrated to Chicago to study architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He left school without earning his degree.
In 1967, he joined the first C.F. Murphy Associates as a star student of Gene Summers. His role grew in scope and responsibility. In 1981 the firm was renamed Murphy/Jahn. At the beginning, things didn’t go as planned as the firm’s first major project resulted in a roof collapse at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri. He bolstered his reputation in 1985 with the State of Illinois Center in Chicago, which led to his rise in fame and the nickname “Flash Gordon.”
Though maintaining his office in Chicago under the Murphy/Jahn name, Jahn has grown the business into a global architectural practice that consistently ranks among the top 20 architectural firms in terms of gross annual billings.
ahn’s buildings have had a “staggering” influence on world architecture according to
John Zukowsky, Curator of Architecture at the Art Institute of Chicago. Murphy/Jahn’s buildings have received numerous design awards and have been represented in architectural exhibitions around the world.
Jahn’s designs have been called both rational and intuitive. He exploits particular elements to achieve a statement that is both visual and communicative. He establishes priorities for the elements of design that deal with space, form, light, color and materials.
Some of his most noted work is the Sony Center in Berlin, the United Airlines Terminal at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Hitachi Tower in Singapore, Shangai International Expo Center in China, Hotel Kempinski in Munich and Cityspire in New York City.
Experts say that Jahn explores the roots of European modernism. Jahn sees his own work as inspired by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, an
architect who dedicated his life to the idea of a universal, simplified architecture. Jahn's work is less about flash, and more about fusion — the fusion of architecture and engineering. Jahn and one of his chief
collaborators, German civil and structural engineer Werner Sobek, call this fusion "archi-neering." Walking the high wire between these two disciplines is what makes Jahn's latest work hard to classify, but more powerful.
He is committed to exploring the material and perceptual possibilities of creating architecture in a new millennium, one with "a simplicity of form and construction and a clear expression of its component parts and purpose," as he describes it.
Jahn strives for an architecture of clarity and order. He wants his buildings to be comprehensible and rational. For these purposes, glass is the material of choice. It allows for spaces to be layered, to be read as overlapping realms that slide past each other.
He has been lauded for his decades of work, named one of the “Ten Most Influential Living American Architects" by the American Institute of Architects, the "Outstanding Achievement/Architect Award" from the Illinois Academy of Fine Arts in 1993, the"Bundesverdienstkreuz Erster Klasse" of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1994, the
Institute Honour Award of the American Institute of Architects for the Sony Center in 2002 and the Murphy/Jahn, Inc. recipient of the AIA Architecture Firm Award in 2005.
Jahn is a Fellow in the American Institute of Architects in which his work has received seven American Institute of Architects National Honor Awards, and a total of 44 Distinguished Building Awards from
the local chapters of the American Institute of Architects. Included with other awards are, an Owens-Corning Fiberglass Energy Conservation Award, the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the Reliance Development Group, Inc. and R. S. Reynolds Memorial for Distinguished Architecture.
Jahn’s work has been included in exhibits worldwide since 1980, including the Venice Biennale, Italy, Verona, Italy, Tokyo, Paris and the Deutsches Architekturmuseum in Frankfurt, Germany. He has taught at the University of Illinois Chicago Campus, was the Elliot Noyes Professor of Architectural Design at Harvard University and the Davenport Visiting Professor of Architectural Design at Yale University, and Thesis Professor at Illinois Institute of Technology.