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The German-American architect Helmut Jahn uses two words to convey the essence of his open approach, which is geared to all that is new: process – standing for work process – and progress – in the sense of advancement. The exhibition HELMUT JAHN – PROCESS PROGRESS at Neues Museum in Nuremberg now presents the whole dynamic oeuvre of this Nuremberg-born architect.
Already in 1966 Helmut Jahn left for the Mecca of architecture, Chicago, to became a partner and soon after owner of the legendary Chicago architectural practice C.F. Murphy Associates, which then was renamed Murphy/Jahn. Helmut Jahn devised and built one of his key works, the James R. Thompson Center (former State of Illinois Center), in the heart of the city, followed by a modern tower block for Xerox with sleek, rounded glass facades, an ultra-modern airport terminal for the city on Lake Michigan, and numerous innovative corporate headquarters and public libraries. Soon his unconventional creations won him a reputation as a successful enfant terrible of the classically-minded U.S. architectural metropolis.
Working in chronological order, the exhibition marks the first German presentation of his important, extremely precise drawings for his constructions in Chicago, New York and the whole of the USA and Europe, as well as of the development of his current "mega big buildings" in Qatar, China, Japan and Korea, for which his Chicago practice is famed. In this way the exhibition takes the visitor on a global time trip around the world of his architecture. Focal themes serve as leitmotifs, as for instance the classical campanile, as seen in the MesseTurm at Frankfurt (1991) and the 540 metre-tall illuminated glass campanile on the new Doha Convention Center Tower (to be completed in 2018). Another leitmotif is the city within a city, as exemplified by the Sony Center in Berlin, or Jahn's typical city-like airport centres which have captured the public's imagination in Munich and Bangkok. The spontaneous free-hand drawings he does for all these highly different tasks also testify, however, to the profound artistic vision that informs all of these buildings.
The exhibition in Nuremberg documents the genesis of the Sony Center in Berlin, the development of one of the latest, most futuristic international airports in Bangkok – a marriage of the engineer's and the architect's art – project plans for ideal cities in the deserts of the Emirates, and city-like shopping centres of a size only conceivable in present-day China. Despite the large-scale projects for which Murphy/Jahn are renowned, the exhibition always maintains an authentic and personal gaze from right close up: all of the drafts were drawn by Helmut Jahn on blocks of paper no larger than 21 x 21 centimetres, occasionally on notebooks a mere 10.8 x 10.8 in size – roughly as long as a cigarette packet. The exhibition gives a focused overview of the no less than 100,000 archived sheets and accompanies them with the architectural models, which are mostly done in Plexiglas.
Apart from over 100 built works, the exhibition also highlights the visions behind the unbuilt and forthcoming works. "The future is never wrong", as the architect aptly remarks.
For over six years now Helmut Jahn has had his complete works photographed by the Munich photographer Rainer Viertlböck. Viertlböck's photos have been set up as a monumental skyline that frames the architectural worlds explored in Jahn's drawings and hand-made models.
With this wide-sweeping view of his entire work, the architect has returned after 46 years to his home town of Nuremberg.
A cooperation between Neues Museum in Nuremberg and Die Neue Sammlung – The International Design Museum Munich in collaboration with Helmut Jahn