Helmut Jahn, Architect of Chicago’s Thompson Center Passes Away at 81 from Cycling Accident

Chicago’s most prolific architect, Helmut Jahn has passed away on Saturday afternoon in a cycling accident. He was struck by two vehicles while riding his bicycle in Campton Hills, in the Chicago suburbs. The German-American designer is best known for his postmodern Thompson Center, currently under threat of demolition and United Airlines Terminal 1 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

Courtesy of Helmut JahnCourtesy of Helmut JahnPassenger Terminal Complex Suvarnabhumi Airport . Image © Rainer Viertlböckthe Thompson Center. Image © Rainer Viertlböck+ 12

“Architecture is all about going with your gut. I prefer when form follows force rather than function.” — Helmut Jahn

Passenger Terminal Complex Suvarnabhumi Airport . Image © Rainer Viertlböck
Passenger Terminal Complex Suvarnabhumi Airport . Image © Rainer Viertlböck

Leaving a legacy in Chicago, Helmut Jahn died on Saturday afternoon from injuries suffered during his bicycle accident. He was 81. Born in Germany, in 1940, the architect first came to Chicago in 1966, after starting his architecture degree at the Technical University of Munich, to study under Mies van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). Without finishing his training or formally graduating, he joined one year later CF Murphy Associates, which was renamed Murphy/Jahn in 1981, and then Jahn in 2012. The firm works on projects around the globe and has completed the Sony Centre complex on Potsdamer Platz in Berlin in 2000 and the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok.


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“I Prefer When Form Follows Force”: an Interview with Helmut Jahn


the Thompson Center. Image © Rainer Viertlböck
the Thompson Center. Image © Rainer Viertlböck

“…anything you don’t need is a benefit. Not only you have to have less things but with the things you have left you have to do more.” — Helmut Jahn

© Rainer Viertlböck
© Rainer Viertlböck

Part of the so-called Chicago Seven, Jahn became known over the years for joining modernism and historical references. By 1980, he designed his first official Chicago skyscraper, the 800,000-square-foot Xerox Center, now called 55 West Monroe. In 1985, he completed the James R Thompson Center in Chicago, highlighting postmodern references and exhibiting influences from Mies van der Rohe. The building used for government offices was put up for sale by the state on May 3. In the late 1980s, he was responsible for United Airlines Terminal 1 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, replacing the existing structure with a signature hub, a new model for airports, and for the Messeturm in Frankfurt, Germany, the tallest building in Europe at the time. Finally, construction on 1000M, his latest building at 1000 S. Michigan Ave. and the largest Chicago skyscraper to be, was halted recently by the coronavirus pandemic.

Tokyo Station Yaesu Redevelopment . Image © Rainer Viertlböck
Tokyo Station Yaesu Redevelopment . Image © Rainer Viertlböck

Good architecture is all about going with your gut. You have something on your mind and you just must go ahead and do it. It is important to keep asking these questions – is it the best way of doing something? Is there another way? — Helmut Jahn

the Thompson Center. Image © Rainer Viertlböck
the Thompson Center. Image © Rainer Viertlböck

Info via the Chicago Tribune.