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Known for his postmodern designs, architect Helmut Jahn has transformed and modernized the skyline of many places across the globe.

To swerve away from the simplicity of the Miesean modernism of the 1950s, Helmut Jahn chose to express structure and color with his buildings. He also sought to combine solid architecture with engineering, and wanted to change the traditional imagery of the skyscraper with the sleekness of modernism. The German-American architect was also recognized for his dedication to energy efficiency and sustainability, which could be seen through the control he had of all aspects of his visions: from the way he dealt with space, form, light to choosing specific building materials.

As we remember his passing at the age of 81, we can reflect on the design and artisanship lessons that we learned from the renowned architect – and explore some of his most iconic work.

Thompson Center in Chicago, USA (1985)

This is one of Jahn’s most significant creations. Nicknamed a starship for its futuristic shape, this building is the closest structure to the true high-tech style ever built in America: a glass and steel structure with all-glass exterior windows and curves facing an open atrium to connect users to the outdoor experience.

Sony Center in Berlin, Germany (1995)

The Sony Center is a Sony-sponsored complex of eight buildings located at the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. When building this unique architecture, Helmut Jahn had daylighting in mind. He designed a roof that covered the plaza like an umbrella, so that he could precisely model the complex passage of natural light through the roof and by inter-reflection into the offices and apartments.

Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand (2006)

What was innovative about this building was the use of building materials that would increase environmental comfort and improve energy efficiency: glass and steel. The shape itself was specifically created to reduce the building's heat loss during the winter and facilitate the entry of light through large windows, thereby reducing the amount of energy needed to artificially illuminate the structure.


Throughout his life, Helmut Jahn highlighted the need for creating structures that are both modern and sustainable. Through the use of glass and steel building materials, elimination of inessential design elements and the introduction of large, full-height glass windows, the German architect strived to improve the buildings’ energy efficiency. Steel can in fact save energy through its 100% recyclability and lightweight potential. And glass helps improve insulating properties and reduce thermal transfer. It’s thanks to its unique properties that the use of glass has continued to evolve over the years, bringing us to the development of low-e coatings as one of the most effective ways for architects and builders to enhance energy efficiency of windows and doors.

Helmut Jahn also emphasized organic architecture in his designs, uniting his creations with their surroundings. Some easy ways architects and builders use to open up the space to nature is through the window and door choices. From removing building’s front doors to turn atriums into covered outdoor spaces, to using gleaming glass facades, Helmut wanted to create a seamless blend between the building and the outdoor space.

Lastly, Helmut was ahead on all design trends and was dedicated to daylighting as a way to reduce the use of artificial lights – contributing to energy efficiency – and allowing the daylight to reach into the inner spaces, thus forming a basis for a pleasant living and working atmosphere. Thanks to the several benefits of daylighting, this technique continues to be used by architects and builders all over the world in both residential and commercial spaces.

For more information on this legendary and award-winning architect, visit the Think Like Helmut Jahn page.

"I strive for an architecture from which nothing can be taken away".

Helmut Jahn

Michael O’Brien

President and CEO of the Window & Door Manufacturers Association

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