Philadelphia YIMBY often shares exciting and uplifting news regarding the city and its development. However, on May 8th, in Chicago, world-renowned architect Helmut Jahn was tragically killed in a road incident not far from his eponymous firm. According to the press, Jahn was biking near his home, 40 miles away from Chicago, when he was struck by two vehicles and was pronounced dead the next day at 81 years old. The architect was born on January 4, 1940 in Zindorf, Germany, and has designed an incredible amount of buildings between 1974 and 2017. In his lifetime, Jahn has produced unique and awe-inspiring designs throughout the world, which stood out as ahead of their time, and has left a dramatic imprint on the Philadelphia skyline.
In the 1940s, development in Philadelphia progressed at a slow pace as over the previous four years the United States of America was engaged in World War II after Japan’s surprise attack on Pear Harbor on December 7, 1941, further slowed down by the Great Depression, which lasted through the 1930s. However, in the preceding decades, many ornate buildings rose into the skyline with fantastic masonry designs. Most of the largest buildings were built around the City Hall in Center City, which created a hub of development when the Second Empire style building was completed in 1901.
Before One Liberty Place topped the Philadelphia skyline in 1987, a larger skyscraper, also designed by Helmut Jahn, was proposed in the city of Houston, with a design that featured striking similarities to the future Philadelphia tower. Known as the Bank of the Southwest, the supertall was planned to count 82 floors, with an angled crown capped with a sharp spire that would rise 1,404 feet high. The larger office floors were to have angled cuts on each corner. The firm of Jahn/Murphy, Inc. was chosen after a design contest in 1982 and the tower was projected to be completed by 1986. The tower was cancelled by 1983 due to a lack of funding, but elements of the design were later integrated into the Philadelphia skyscraper.
In the 1950s, Philadelphia was starting to see a rise in new development as developers focused on Center City, particularly after the demolition of the “Chinese Wall” opened up a large swath of space from City Hall to the Schuylkill River. A wild proposal called the City Tower was revealed in the late 1950s at 1400 Arch Street, where the Philadelphia Municipal Services Building currently stands. The 30-story tower would have stood just to the north of City Hall. The tower was designed by Louis I. Kahn in a dramatic Futurist style, as the building’s design and form were way ahead of its time.
In the 1960s, Philadelphia observed a rise in development with ample space available for new buildings in Center City. The William Penn statue at the pinnacle of City Hall still topped the Philadelphia skyline with a height of 548 feet, though it was surrounded by high-rises that stood nearly as tall. Today YIMBY presents massing renderings of the skyline as it appeared in 1965, when a new batch of modern and blocky towers were rising, with still more proposed.