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Helmut Jahn (b.1940)

Dates of Interview:

August 2003

Location of Interview:

Offices of Murphy / Jahn, Chicago


Donna Robertson and Hamza Walker

Length of Transcript:

71 pages
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Helmut Jahn

Biographical Summary

Helmut Jahn was born in Nuremburg, Germany in 1940. He completed his Diploma in Engineering and Architecture at the Technische Hochschule, Munich, in 1965 and then came to the United States to study at Chicago’s Illinois Institute of Technology. In 1967 he joined the architecture practice C.F. Murphy Associates. From 1979 to 2012 the firm was known as Murphy/Jahn, renamed JAHN in 2012. Throughout his career Jahn has primarily worked on large-scale office/commercial and civic buildings, earning numerous national AIA (American Institute of Architects) and Chicago Chapter AIA awards. Murphy/Jahn won the AIA’s architecture firm award in 2005. In 1987 Jahn was elected Fellow, AIA and was cited by the AIA as one of the “Ten Most Influential Living American Architects” in 1991.

Interview Highlights

Jahn speaks of the importance of the drawing process; his "archi-neering" approach to integrated design; current projects in the office and office organization; difficulty in hiring committed architects; the public spaces in the United Airlines Terminal and Thompson Center; the Sony Center (Berlin) competition and design development; and principles to insure a well-designed building.

University of Chicago, Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, Chicago. IL.
Photograph courtesy Rainer Viertlboeck.

Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok, Thailand.
Photograph courtesy Rainer Viertlboeck.

Interview Excerpt

"The drawing actually becomes some of the expression of what goes on in my mind. It is a kind of thinking, I can’t think if I don’t draw, if I don’t have my pen in my hand and that pad. I don’t believe in words. There’s too many words in architecture, in the world, period. And then sometimes I get very upset when people talk forever but they don’t know what they are talking about because they don’t have a drawing." (p. 2)

Sony Center, Berlin, Germany. Photograph courtesy Rainer Viertlboeck.

Additional Resources

Helmut Jahn images in the R&B Archives
Related archival materials in the R&B Archives
Works by Jahn in the Department of Architecture and Design