Say what you want about Helmut Jahn, the man has presence. He held court the other night before a crowd of would-be clients for Urban R2 Development and Schatz, developers of the Jahn-designed 600 North Fairbanks condo tower. The planned Streeterville highrise promises to be a stunner, with a wall of curved glass and a sheer side that tapers at the base, allowing the tower to lean alluringly over a neighboring structure. His most intriguing comment of the evening? In a very brief interview after he spoke, we asked the famed architect, who has done little work in Chicago during the last 10 years if he would like to do more residential buildings in the city. “I would like to do more,” he said. “And I will.”
Maybe it was wishful thinking on our part, but the way he looked us in the eyes as he said, “And I will” made us think that perhaps something was already in the works. Of course, with his lean face, thick head of hair and wide, intense eyes, he has the sort of commanding presence that inspires faith. Chicago could use more buildings like 600 North Fairbanks and Jahn’s recent IIT project, State Street Village. And though his talk was confined to general comments or praise for the luxuries of the new highrise, it was nice to see architecture celebrated in a residential building after the many dogs that have been built here during the last decade.
Some critics have blasted this sort of dog-and-pony show in which architects are used to hawk condos, lamenting the “commodification of architecture.” We’d rather see great art become a selling point than mediocrity remain the standard.