The Lunchtime Tourist

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August 4, 2003 // UPDATED 11:01 am - April 30, 2007
By: mut Jahn's sculptural architecture
mut Jahn's sculptural architecture

701 4th Ave. S.

On the perimeter of Downtown's skyway system is a little piece of Chicago and a jewel of an office building. Designed by Chicago's famed architect Helmut Jahn, 701 4th Ave. S. was built in 1984.

Though born in Nuremberg, Germany in 1940, Jahn moved to Chicago to study with Mies van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology. In 1967, he began his career as an architect at C. F. Murphy Associates. Six years later, he became head of design, and by 1981, the firm's name had been changed to Murphy/Jahn and Helmut Jahn was the sole owner, president and CEO.

Jahn's early work was influenced by the International Style then evolved into sculptural skyscrapers clad in lively patterns of colored glass panels.

He became nicknamed "Flash Gordon" for his postmodern, shimmering glass skyscrapers of the late 1970s and 1980s and rocketed to architectural celebrity after building the State of Illinois Building in 1984. The American Institute of Architects named him one of the 10 most influential living architects in 1991. Today, there are more than a dozen books about the architect, and while Chicago's skyline is a Murphy/Jahn gallery, the firm's work spans the globe.

Our own 18-story building is composed of two concentric octagon towers. A central blue-and-silver glass tower rises from the building's center. Wrapping around it is a second tower with a series of graduated steps from the corner entrance.

In a 1985 lecture, Jahn said of the building: "Both in form and in surface the outer octagon is more dynamic, the inner one more static. At the corner, the inner building stays free to reinforce the diagonal and the corner. The outer part transforms into a base which furthers the relationship with the neighboring buildings."

Salmon and light blue panels define the building's base, and there's lots of marble inside. The smart corner entrance is a visual connection to Downtown and acknowledges Hennepin County Government Center.

Walk through the kitty-corner park to appreciate the sculptural beauty of this skyline gem by one of America's premiere architects.

To see the architect's sketches for this building, check out "Helmut Jahn" published by Rizzoli, New York, call number NA 737.J34 M55 at Downtown's Central Library, 250 Marquette Ave.

LUNCH TIP: The building's own Bigsby's Cafe serves daily specials on the patio.

Send tips and ideas to thelunchtimetourist@hotmail.com.