Architect Helmut Jahn, FAIA, of Chicago-based Murphy/Jahn, once known for Postmodern towers topped with iconic hats and spires, opened his 2009 Architectural Record/GreenSource Innovation talk by posing the rhetorical question: “Is modern architecture sustainable?” But then, he discounted his own query with: “It isn’t a question. It is a necessity.”
In the 45 minutes that followed, Jahn outlined his strategy for creating architecture that is both sustainable and modern. Such buildings are naturally dependent on material selection, orientation, and management and operations, he said. But most important, they require a deep integration with structural and climate-control engineering. “When architecture and engineering speak the same language, there is no demarcation between where architecture ends and engineering begins,” said Jahn.
Jahn’s has been a proponent of what he calls “archi-neering” since the 1990s when he began working with structural engineer Werner Sobek and climate engineering consultant Matthias Schuler. Jahn’s presentation focused on the fruits of this collaboration and included projects, such as the Bayer headquarters in Leverkusen, Germany, the Deutsche Post tower in Bonn, and the headquarters for biotech and pharmaceutical company Merck Serono in Geneva.
All these projects involved intensive efforts to integrate facade shading with building structure and climate control systems and an emphasis on localized heating and cooling over more centralized systems. The highly transparent and dematerialized buildings have a strong aesthetic component, but Jahn insisted that the goals of minimizing consumption of natural resources and enhancing occupant comfort motivated the design.
Jahn discussed mostly Northern European work along with buildings in more challenging climates, such as Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, and several schemes for buildings in the Middle East, including a complex of towers in Ras al-Khaimah, UAE. The towers are planned to feature solar chimneys to enhance natural ventilation via the stack effect, a solar pond for thermal energy storage, and an energy shield to reduce solar gain and generate power. Though the project is on hold, it communicates a conviction in the progressive power of technology that characterizes Murphy/Jahn’s work from the last decade and a half. “What we do as architects,” said Jahn, “can change the world and make it better.”