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Helmut Jahn renames firm, shares design reins with Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido.
Helmut Jahn (left) with Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido.
Courtesy Jahn

Tonight the American Institute of Architects Chicago chapter will honor German-American architect Helmut Jahn with a lifetime achievement award. Last week the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat also awarded Jahn with lifetime achievement recognition at their annual awards symposium.

On the crest of these accomplishments, the 72-year-old principal of Murphy/Jahn Architects announced Friday that architect Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido will step up to share design leadership of the firm, which will now be known simply as JAHN.


“Since 1979 the firm has carried the name Murphy/Jahn,” Jahn said in a hand-written note to announce the change, “After 33 years it’s time for a change.” Jahn became a partner at the firm, then called C.F. Murphy Associates, in 1981.

Gonzalez-Pulido, 42, has been an executive vice president of the firm since 2006, and an admirer of Jahn’s work for far longer.

“I was a student in Mexico, and this guy was my hero,” Gonzalez-Pulido said. “This means the world to me.” He started his own design-build pratice at 26 years old, 2MX3, but later enrolled in Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. While still enrolled at the GSD, his 2MX3 project La Casa Sintetica — a modular, prefabricated social housing unit — won an award from Vicente Fox, future president of Mexico. After he earned a master’s of architecture, Gonzalez-Pulido went to Chicago and took a position with Murphy/Jahn.

“As we started working together,” Gonzalez-Pulido said, “we discovered we had common ground, a very similar way of looking at buildings.” Raised in different cultures, Gonzalez-Pulido and Jahn differed on some priorities — Jahn was focused on how technology enhanced the architects’ work, while Gonzalez-Pulido pushed for context and passion.

But both share a hands-on work philosophy, which Jahn has dubbed Archi-Neering. “I like to work with contractors, manufacturers, with the clients,” Gonzalez-Pulido said, “and solve the problem.”

Gonzalez-Pulido has long had a strong say in the firm’s design process. The off-kilter motion and yellow ceramic frit glass pattern of Murphy/Jahn’s Veer Towers in Las Vegas, for example, bear the structural innovation and bold forms that both architects strive to realize. Both share a conviction that good design should not be watered down by reluctant clients or logistical challenges. “During Veer, I can’t tell you how many times people came to me and said ‘enjoy your leaning buildings for two more weeks,’” Gonzalez-Pulido said, “'because by the end of this process they will be straight and the glass will be reflective.' That didn't happen.”

In that sense, Jahn’s protégé stepping up will not be a hard tack for the firm. “I don’t feel like I’m really challenging the philosophy or values of the firm in any way,” Gonzalez-Pulido said. “I’m going to keep pushing for the same things.” More of JAHN’s work will be in Asia than in the past, he added, noting several supertall projects in the pipeline. 

Chris Bentley