There has been little to do at Potsdamer Platz in recent months.

The shops are closed, the restaurants are dark, the cinemas are closed - not only because the Berlinale was not allowed to invite an audience.

A corona rapid test station, on the other hand, is well attended.

You can register in a café and have your nasal mucosa removed after barely a minute.

Then you leave the rooms through the back exit and suddenly stand alone in one of the most spectacular festival architecture in Berlin - the Sony Center.

The German-American architect Helmut Jahn designed it in the 1990s when a usage concept was being sought for the largest urban wasteland in Europe, located directly on the former death strip. Nothing less than a new city center was to be built here. On the property, a triangle between Tiergarten, Leipziger Platz and Potsdamer Straße, Jahn built a futuristic complex.

To the outside, he put a block perimeter development made of smooth glass facades, in the pointed corner a glass high-rise on Potsdamer Platz - as a counterpart to Hans Kollhoff's brick tower.

A courtyard spreads out inside.

The view jumps back and forth like a pinball ball, is shot back from tilted facades, disappears into niches, sinks into the basin of the fountain, slams against the massive cinema hall that juts out into the room.

And above everything there is a transparent circus tent roof, which is illuminated in all colors of the spectrum at night.

Sky over Berlin: Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz

Source: picture alliance / imageBROKER


The Sony Center (opened in 2000), which no longer belongs to the Japanese entertainment giant but has been sold several times, was a promise made by Helmut Jahn.

A promise that in the spirit of optimism in post-reunification Berlin, architecture could be possible that is glass instead of stone and that could break up the linear rigidity.

Unfortunately, it never really came true.

The architecture has a potential that its tenants and users could not fully exploit.

But if this large structure is not seized by the hustle and bustle and entertainment, it shows its flaw, namely being cold and drafty.

From Zirndorf into the world

Curse and blessing are sometimes close together in the architecture of Helmut Jahn, who was born on January 4, 1940 in Zirndorf in Central Franconia and graduated from the Technical University in Munich.

In 1966 he went to Chicago for postgraduate studies and soon got a job at the architecture firm CF Murphy Associates.

He met Ludwig Mies von der Rohe and studied glass and steel modernism, which the former Bauhaus director had made his trademark in exile.

In 1971, Jahn paid homage to his idol and his New National Gallery in Berlin: with Gene Summers, he planned the McCormick Place exhibition center, which, with its glass façade under the cantilevered steel framework roof and slender external supports, looks like a stretch version of the Miesschen temple of modernity.


Helmut Jahn soon got bored with the “International Style” of those years.

In the euthanasia competition for the increasingly self-similar office buildings, he gave his design for a mirror-glazed Xerox Tower (1980) in Chicago a round corner that protruded two storeys over the eaves as a truncated cylinder.

Light and color

Now Jahn knew where he was going.

He became more and more virtuoso at joining glass panes and steel structures perfectly.

He also wanted to add color to his buildings, if not through prismatic light refraction, then through colored, tinted glasses and colorful structures.

He was celebrated for the Thompson Center (1984) in Chicago.

The Thompson Center in Chicago

Source: picture alliance / newscom

With its circular inner courtyard and colored glass ribbons, the complex is a foretaste of the Sony Center.

Jahn then designed a ride on the conveyor belts at Chicago's O'Hare Airport (1986) as a rushing LSD trip.

He then made the Cologne-Bonn bureaucratic airport (2000) more sober again.

Only in the distance does it shine like a crystal from its steel frame.


Jahn, who headed the Murphy / Jahn office from 1983, finally took it over in 2021 and renamed it JAHN, was long considered the favorite architect of investors.

When postmodern architecture was in demand in the eighties, Jahn played with its set pieces.

Unlike the intellectuals of this style, he did not quote from the treasure chest of architecture, but rather varied an incunable of American architecture, the top of the Chrysler Building in New York City.

The exhibition tower in Frankfurt am Main

Source: picture-alliance / dpa

The Art Deco roof of the skyscraper reflects Jahn into the Marvel comic universe. Hardly any of the many high-rise buildings can do without a crown, hood, dome or geometrically tapering cap. As is the case with one of the most popular high-rise buildings in Germany, the Messeturm (1991) in Frankfurt / Main, which is reminiscent of a pencil - here, for once, Jahn planned a stone facade. In Schwabing, however, his slick Highlight Towers (2005) were so resentful that skyscraper planners in Munich have had an even harder time. In Rottweil, “Turmvater Jahn” was still allowed to build a needle more than 200 meters high in 2014, which is only used to test elevators.

Jahn has always remained connected to Germany. Especially Berlin, where he flanked the fifties bliss of the “Café Kranzler” with a brutal, green shimmering glass passage. And one of Jahn's boldest houses still stands a few blocks away. On a plot of land just 2.50 meters deep on Kurfürstendamm, he boasted about how elegant a glass facade can be. On May 8, 2021, Helmut Jahn had a fatal accident while cycling near his farm in Campton Hills near Chicago. He was 81 years old.