Helmut Jahn, the famous German American architect behind some of Chicago’s most impressive buildings, including the Thompson Center, died when he was struck by two vehicles while riding his bicycle Saturday afternoon, according to Campton Hills police. He was 81.
Jahn was riding his bicycle northeast on Old Lafox Road, approaching its T-shaped intersection with Burlington Road, about 3:30 p.m. Saturday “and failed to stop at the posted stop sign,” according to a news release from Campton Hills police, a village near St. Charles in west suburban Kane County.
“That’s what multiple witnesses relayed,” Campton Hills Officer Scott Coryell said. “For an unknown reason, he failed to stop.”
A silver Chevrolet Trailblazer SUV headed southeast on Burlington Road struck Jahn, according to the statement from Steven Millar, Campton Hills police chief.
A second vehicle, a silver Hyundai Sonata headed northwest on Burlington Road, then struck him as well, the statement said.
“He was hit by the Trailblazer going south(east) and ended up in the north(west) lane where the Sonata hit him,” Coryell said by phone Sunday morning.
Jahn was pronounced dead at the accident site.
The driver of the Trailblazer and a female passenger in the SUV were not injured, officials said. The driver of the Sonata, a woman from Elburn, was taken to Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital in Geneva with injuries that were not considered life-threatening, police said.
Coryell confirmed the deceased was the world-famous architect who planned the Thompson Center when he was just 39.
The Thompson Center, built in 1985 and originally called the State of Illinois Center, later was renamed for former Republican Gov. James Thompson Jr., also known as “Big Jim” Thompson.
Jahn once said the building made his reputation around the world and killed it in Chicago.
After years of speculation, the state officially began soliciting bids for the building’s sale last Monday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Central Management Services announced.
He went on to design such other high-profile projects as the sleek Xerox Center, now known as 55 West Monroe; the art deco revival addition to the Chicago Board of Trade, 141 W. Jackson Blvd.; and the romantically modern United Airlines Terminal 1 at O’Hare International Airport.
Jahn was also behind the Sony Center in Berlin, One Liberty Place in Philadelphia and the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. In 2016, he designed a 74-floor residential tower, 1000M, 1000 S. Michigan Ave., that had been expected to be complete in 2022 before construction stopped as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
It could be revived, though plans were in the works in December to change the floor plan to offer apartments rather than condos.
“The exterior of the building would remain substantially as previously approved,” Francis Greenburger, chairman and CEO of New York-based Time Equities, wrote in an email to the Tribune at the time. “Our hope would be to commence construction next year, but this will depend on economic conditions and the availability of financing.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot extended her condolences to Jahn’s family in a social media post praising his creativity and imprint on the city.
“Jahn was one of the most inventive Chicago architects whose impact on the city — from the skyline to the O’Hare tunnel — will never be forgotten,” she wrote.
According to a profile on the website for his firm, Jahn, the architect earned a reputation for his “progressive architecture” and his buildings earned “numerous design awards and have been represented in architectural exhibitions around the world.”
The profile said Jahn graduated from the Technische Hochschule in Munich, Germany; in 1966 he moved to Chicago to study further at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
“He is committed to design excellence and the improvement of the urban environment. He believes the continuous innovation of architecture has to do more with the elimination of the inessential, than inventing something new,” it said.
Jahn also taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, was the Eliot Noyes Professor of Architectural Design at Harvard University, the Davenport Visiting Professor of Architectural Design at Yale University, and the Thesis Professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology, according to his profile.
Jahn is survived by his wife, Deborah Jahn, with whom he owned Seven Oaks Farm — a 27-acre facility with two arenas that offers training, lessons, breeding and selling. According to an online tribute, the couple had a son, Evan, “with whom (Helmut) shared a passion for competitive sailing.”
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The Seven Oaks Farm website and the tribute page note Jahn’s enjoyment of equestrianism and fixing up the property.
“The Jahns purchased the farm ... several years ago and fully renovated the house and the barn and built a large indoor arena (designed by Mr. Jahn) and spent most weekends at the farm, while still maintaining their home in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood,” said the Saddlebred Memoirs page administrator.
Deborah Jahn’s profile page on the farm’s website said she and her husband, when working on the property, “added many architectural gems and improvements to the property to make it world class.”
Blair Kamin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former Chicago Tribune architecture critic, said Jahn was a “dashing star of an architect.”
“He was on the cover of GQ. He was renowned as much for his persona as for his architecture, but his architecture was always exceptional. And, as time went on, he was regarded as less of a ‘Flash Gordon’ character and more of a modernist master,” Kamin said.