Famed architect Helmut Jahn struck by 2 vehicles, killed while riding bicycle

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

CHICAGO — Helmut Jahn, the famous German architect behind some of Chicago’s most impressive buildings, died when he was struck by two vehicles while riding his bicycle Saturday afternoon, according to Campton Hills, Illinois, 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, it 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 Chicago's famed 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 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 just last Monday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Central Management Services announced.

Jahn went on to design such other high-profile projects as the sleek Xerox Centre; the art deco revival addition to the Chicago Board of Trade; and the romantically modern United Airlines Terminal 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 in Chicago 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 floorplan 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 Chicago 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.”

Chicago 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 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.

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.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting