Our work has reshaped cities and changed minds.
Over decades of practice and generations of leadership, across continents and cultures, alongside countless partners and co-creators, our practice never stopped changing. We have been at the foundation of the Chicago School, at the forefront of building technology, at head-spinning heights of the world’s most beloved skyscrapers, and at the roots of healthy communities. Our work has reshaped cities and changed minds.
Through it all, we continue to do, dare, design. As we introduce our renewed, reenergized studio, we honor the journey that brought us here, and are profoundly optimistic about the future we will create—together.
“Only together can we truly invent.”
- Helmut Jahn
Doers, darers, designers
Jahn is among the most iconic names in architecture. Founded 60 years ago, our studio has reshaped cities and changed minds with a group of professionals sharing the same passion for architecture, design, and technology. Today, we are as energized as ever, building upon a culture of collaboration alongside the most innovative teams of engineers, fabricators, and builders to create architecture of authenticity and integrity. Having trust in our creativity, and by allowing space for experimentation, we believe we can design a better world.
Restless, curious, driven—remaking the world with resilience and optimism
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Form follows function, 2.0 / Good design doesn’t have to be revolutionary. In Washington, DC, just steps away from the White House, One Freedom Plaza stands out not for breaking new ground but for building upon best practices in 21st Century building technology. A simple, yet refined, aesthetic masks a complex set of high-performance systems, including operable windows and intelligent window shades, that achieve maximum efficiency and optimal comfort for office workers inside. The building is one of clarity, integrity, and authenticity—a building of our time.
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Collaborating in Rostock / In the port city of Rostock, German medical company Deutsche Med had a bold vision for a 50,000 square meter facility centralizing research and preventative care. We met the challenge, proposing a block-like configuration of three distinct buildings that anchor a new town square. By working hand-in-hand with engineers from the outset of the project, we developed an innovative system consisting of a composite steel frame with precast concrete planks, which allows spans up to 14 meters. The result: a design that makes a statement while keeping costs in check.
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Glasshouse, greenhouse / City living blends harmoniously with nature at Eden, a 98-meter high-rise apartment building at the edge of Frankfurt’s Europaviertel. Delicate crystalline balconies hug the facade, meeting uninterrupted vertical gardens that lend privacy to outdoor living spaces while emphasizing the height of the building. The greening of the tower enabled our client to increase the building’s allowable area by 8.5%, proving that sustainability in architecture is not only an ethical practice—it makes good business sense, too.
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Traveling light / In the early 1990s, the dramatic increase in air travel—combined with new wide-bodied aircraft, heightened security needs, and increased baggage handling—made restructuring the landmark Cologne/Bonn Airport a necessity. Included within our larger redevelopment of the airport was a new Terminal 2, expansion of Terminal 1, and a new high-speed rail station. We identified a legible design approach, prioritizing openness and natural light as a means of making passenger orientation and movement intuitive, allowing travelers to focus their energy on the destination rather than the hassle of getting there. Terminal 2 features 30m x 30m steel trusses supporting a continuously folded roof plate with north-facing skylights, a highly transparent facade, and cable-supported steel and glass structure. Advanced lightweight glass construction is applied throughout; glass railings, elevators, jet bridges, floors, and stairs create a visually cohesive, technologically advanced, and efficient airport facility.
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Window shopping in reunified Germany / Rarely has architecture inspired hope like it did following the reunification of Germany in the 1990s. In Chemnitz, decades of Soviet occupation left behind a vast urban wasteland, creating a blank slate for architects to reimagine a modern city center. Recognizing the important need, city leaders tasked Jahn with designing a first for our studio: a department store located at the edge of the historic city square. The design we delivered is all at once eye-catching and aspirational. A single-shell facade of high-performance insulating glass wraps around the exterior of the five-story structure as if the entire building is a display window. Contributing an internal luminosity, especially at night, the building becomes a Stadtpavillon—an instant landmark in a city reborn, opening up its arms to the world around it.
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Digging deep, going beyond / The University of Chicago’s Joe and Rika Mansueto Library challenges the notion of what a library is supposed to be. Students, rather than bookstacks, occupy an open floor plan that is encased in a soaring elliptical glass dome, putting the pursuit of knowledge on display at an institution renowned for encouraging its students to go beyond where others stop. In the 50 feet beneath the Grand Reading Room, the university houses 3.5 million books—retrievable not by human hands, but instead using a state-of-the-art Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS) that can handle seven times as many books as conventional library shelves. Its design has led some to speculate that the library of the future is already here.
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Anticipating change / From the ground up, the Pritzker Military Archives Center is designed to accommodate change. Necessitated in the first place by the expansion of the Pritzker Museum & Library’s collections, the new facility includes nearly 15,000 square feet of below grade archival storage. Modular and efficient building systems work alongside one another to create flexible spaces capable of changing over time. Much like the structure itself, which projects the ultimate expression of meticulous engineering through an exposed steel truss system, the center’s private spaces are revealed to curious public eyes through a partial height glass partition, offering a lens into the work of curators and archivists.
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Theatrics aside / When the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) needed a new home, Jahn delivered, contributing a bold design free from the predictable theatrics of its neighbor, the Walt Disney World Corporation. Instead, the building, which houses the special taxing body charged with local governance of the locale in which the theme park resides, exemplifies the boldness of simplicity and the qualities of minimalism extended by circumstance. A simple square plan is chamfered at the corners to create an ascending facade, replaced by a landscaped steel trellis which retains the outline of the original cubic composition. A departure from the norm, the RCID Administration Building emphasizes the independence of its occupant while exploring the essential components of modern architectural design: space and the nature of materials.
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Design in motion / By nature, suburban office buildings can be forgettable. Not 1900 Reston Metro Plaza. Situated along the Dulles Tollway Corridor, the building deploys a bold move to capture the attention of the thousands of drivers who speed by each day. Sloping outward, its muscular facade, with an exposed concrete exoskeleton and larger-than-life presence, appears in motion, delicately teetering on its axis almost as if defying gravity. At the same time, it maintains a scalability which allows it to open itself up to pedestrians, thanks to a cutaway plaza designed specifically to be self-shading in the summer. Relying on honest design and good technology, 1900 Reston Metro Plaza redefines the fabric of its namesake community, and in the process, sets a new standard for suburban office buildings.
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Efficiency at work / A well-designed building is like a living thing, carefully engineered to adapt to its environment in a constant effort to keep its occupants comfortable and its carbon footprint in check. At SIGN!, a modern office building near the Rhine River in Düsseldorf, the building itself becomes a system. Its envelope, composed of overlapping glass sheets, opens up at each floor’s edge to reveal individually-controlled vents which allow for fresh air intake. Integrated cooling in the concrete mass of the exposed slabs supplied by groundwater further reduces overall energy consumption. Obtaining the desired efficiency required a serious scientific undertaking—a process that heavily influenced the simple yet highly sophisticated aesthetic of SIGN! and reasserted our studio’s commitment to sustainable design.
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Future city / Opportunities to design an entire city from the ground up are rare. In 2020, Moscow’s leaders launched an international design competition to do just that, setting sights on a 400-hectare embankment on the coast of the Moskva River southeast of the city center. The design brief called for a mixed-use development that would rival Moscow’s city center, accommodating more than 100 thousand jobs, 7.5 million square meters of real estate, and housing for more than 85 thousand people. Our concept placed a premium on livability, proposing an instantly iconic skyline that would rely on building height, rather than mass, to achieve necessary density, maximizing street-level open space for public enjoyment. Although officials ultimately selected a different proposal, our vision inspired bold new ideas about how a future city might take shape.
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Let the light in / Completed in 1977, the Michigan City Public Library transformed how we approach the use of transparency and natural light in our body of work. Exterior walls constructed out of translucent fiberglass allow sunlight to enter during the day and create a gentle glow outside at night, with insulation helping maximize energy efficiency. Above, a sawtooth roof is divided into seven sections of long clearstory windows, engineered to filter in soft northern daylight while shielding patrons from the harsh southern sun. Upon its debut, the 35,000 square feet library became an architectural landmark in the city, winning numerous awards and ushering in a new era of modern building design for our practice.
Helmut Jahn never stopped changing
He came to Chicago as a young immigrant not to fit a paradigm but to forge one. Today, the firm that bears his name is just as restless and curious, reinventing itself and the world around it.
Tributes to Helmut