The New Modernism of Helmut Jahn
by Michael J. Crosbie
One of the duties of the architecture critic is to place the work of architects into tidy boxes. Labels are handy for this: modern, late modern, postmodern, revivalist, classicist, deconstructivist. But sometimes the most interesting work doesn't quite fit into a tidy box.
Such is the case with Helmut Jahn. Critics have him pigeonholed as "Flash Gordon," that postmodern enfant terrible who rocketed to stardom on the supercharged fireworks of the State of Illinois Building in 1985. But this is not Jahn today.
Through his recent architecture, Jahn is exploring the roots of European modernism. The new projects of the German-born architect who heads the Chicago firm Murphy/Jahn capture the searching, innovative, iconoclastic spirit that marked modernism's birth.
Jahn sees his own work as inspired by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. But to me he is closer in spirit to Walter Gropius or Konrad Wachsmann — architects who used technology less as an "expression" (as Mies did) and more in the service of architecture. >>>
This article is excerpted from Murphy/Jahn: Six Works by Michael J. Crosbie, with permission of the publisher, Images Publishing, Inc.
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The Sony Center in Berlin designed by Helmut Jahn; not a building but a part of the city.
Made of steel cable, fiberglass membrane, and glass, the Sony Center "crown" is a landmark on the skyline that glows in different colors at night.
Photo: Courtesy Murphy/Jahn
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