How Diversity in Architectural Styles Lends Vibrancy to Communities

At Optima®, we’re passionate about design and architecture, not just as forms of artistic expression but as vital elements that contribute to the vibrancy of communities. Across the places where we build, our “forever modern” design philosophy enhances our neighborhoods with unique character, playing a critical role in enhancing the architectural mix, creating a rich tapestry for people to enjoy today…and tomorrow.

A Melting Pot of Architectural Styles

Architecture is like a visual language, telling the story of a place through its buildings. From the ornate flourishes of Art Deco to the sleek lines of Modernism, each style reflects the cultural, historical, and technological zeitgeist of its era. When these different styles coexist in a community, they create a dynamic and visually engaging environment.

Take, for instance, a walk through a city where every corner reveals a different architectural era. The Gothic revival church with its pointed arches and elaborate stonework stands in contrast to the glass and steel of a contemporary skyscraper. This juxtaposition isn’t just about the old meeting the new; it’s a dialogue between different times and ideas, a landscape that tells the story of change and continuity.

View of Optima Signature® from Chicago River

Optima’s “Forever Modern” Contribution

At Optima, our approach is grounded in the belief that modernism isn’t a static style but an evolving language that responds to current trends, technologies, and lifestyles. By integrating the latest materials and design innovations, our buildings add a layer of contemporary elegance to the architectural conversation within communities.

Our designs, characterized by clean lines, open spaces, and a harmonious blend with the surrounding environment, offer a fresh perspective that complements the existing architectural diversity. For example, the sleek silhouette of an Optima building can highlight the ornate details of a neighboring Victorian building in downtown Wilmette, making both styles stand out.

Creating Dynamic and Interesting Communities

The beauty of diverse architectural styles lies in their ability to create vibrant, interesting, and dynamic communities. This diversity is partly visual, but it also reflects the varied experiences, histories, and values of the people who inhabit these spaces. It fosters a sense of place, where residents and visitors can feel a connection to both the past and the future.

Our commitment to modern design at Optima doesn’t exist in isolation. It’s part of a broader architectural narrative, where different styles coalesce to create a community that’s dynamic, visually engaging, and rich with stories. As architects and designers, we relish the opportunity to contribute to these narratives, because it’s in these spaces that communities truly come alive, pulsating with energy and beauty.

The Career of Helmut Jahn

The Life of Helmut Jahn

The German-American architect Helmut Jahn, who passed away in May 2021, holds a special place in the hearts of Chicagoans, as he made the city his home throughout his stellar international career. He was also a close friend and colleague of Optima founder, David Hovey Sr., FAIA.

Born in 1940 near Nuremberg, Germany, Jahn witnessed the destruction — and later reconstruction — of the town where he grew up during and after World War II. Because of this intimate and personal experience, he was inspired to study architecture and design as a way to participate in the process of stabilizing and beautifying the places where people live.

Jahn moved to Munich to study architecture, and relocated to Chicago in 1966 to further his studies under renowned architects Myron Goldsmith and Fazlur Khan at IIT. His career was forged when joining C. F. Murphy Associates, which was renamed JAHN in 2012 following Charles Murphy’s retirement. 

Much of the work Jahn created took inspiration from the modern aesthetic he adopted while at ITT; he also pulled from the influences of postmodernism, the Art Deco style of the ‘30s and eclecticism throughout his career. In the late 1970s and early ‘80s, Jahn’s mark on architecture really began as he transitioned from smaller projects to legacy-defining skyscrapers.

The Works of Helmut Jahn

James R. Thompson Center, Chicago

In 1985 Jahn designed the State of Illinois Building (renamed the James R. Thompson Center in 1994), located in Chicago, which serves as the second home to the Illinois state government. From the moment its doors opened to the public, it became one of Jahn’s most controversial designs, with mixed reviews that ranged from unabashed praise to outrage. 

The photos shows a rounded interior of a building fitted with bright colors of steel railings, staircases and beams.
The atrium inside the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago, designed by Helmut Jahn

The building, with a grand atrium at its center, has a distinctive circular shape that references the Illinois State Capitol building in Springfield. While the structure was considered futuristic at the time, in part due to the use of advanced architectural tectonics, it also incorporated design elements that were reminiscent of the grandeur of large public spaces of the past.

Over the years, many of Illinois’ most senior officeholders (including governors) have proposed selling the structure, much to the criticism of architects and architecture devotees concerned about the building’s future. And while the future of the building remains in question, the 17-story structure is internationally known and considered a momentous piece of postmodern architecture.

A round shaped building is lit up with lights from it's inside in the dark night.
The exterior of the James R. Thompson Center, designed by Helmut Jahn

Sony Center, Berlin

Built in 2000 at the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, Germany, the Sony Center stands as one of Jahn’s more recent architectural feats. After the city’s ruin during WWII, the original site — the infamous Nazi People’s Court — was stuck in the Berlin Wall’s No Man’s Land, and was left to decay. Once the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the city looked to rehabilitate much of the forgotten architecture. 

Jahn undertook the project of this transformational urban marketplace with a desire to honor the meaning of building on and around abandoned structures. In the process, he successfully blended historic remnants and modern aesthetics to create an open, free-flowing space for all to enjoy.  

The grouping of eight buildings that makes up the Sony Center are a mix of residential, commercial and public space. Each structure is enveloped in glass, directing the flow of light and augmenting the feeling of transparency throughout the complex. The 102 meter-long roof that sits atop the complex, built by Waagner-Biro, has become an iconic feature in its own right. The medley of steel, glass and translucent fabrics, which is often illuminated in bright colors, furthers the fluid design that Jahn intended.

A wide lens photo captures four buildings faced with glass with a large fanned roof that is open above them.
A rendering of the Pritzker Military Archives Center in Sommers, Wisconsin, designed by Helmut Jahn

Pritzker Military Archives Center

The Pritzker Military Archives Center located in Sommers, Wisconsin, is one of Jahn’s final projects. The construction, which started in 2020, is taking place in conjunction with the development of a new Memorial Park Center. The center will advance the mission of the Pritzker Museum and Library to restore and preserve their ever-expanding collections. 

The state-of-the-art structure will feature an immersive 9,400 square-foot Gallery Center open to the public. The Gallery will house artifacts and exhibits provided by the parent museum and library located in Chicago. The front of the building will feature floor-to-ceiling glass frames that illuminate the interior. Brilliant red steel beams will stretch beyond the facade, creating a dramatic rooftop extending boldly beyond the building’s entrance. 

Construction on the Pritzker Military Archives Center is underway and moving swiftly; the entire Memorial Park Center will take nearly a decade to be completed.

A rendering presents a bright red steel structure with four flag poles with flags flying in its front. Around the structure green grass and trees fill the area.
The interior forum of the Sony Center in Berlin, designed by Helmut Jahn

Chicago Architecture Center Exhibit

Honoring Jahn’s accomplishments and extraordinary engineering feats, the Chicago Architecture Center (CAC) has curated the exhibit Helmut Jahn: Life + Architecture. The exhibit includes an expansive compilation of ephemera including photography, sketches and models of Jahn’s most iconic works. 

For those interested in learning more about Jahn’s exemplary career in architecture and beyond, Helmut Jahn: Life + Architecture is free with admission to the CAC. The exhibit is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily until October 31. You can purchase vouchers and learn more about future exhibits here.

Modernism in Chicago

According to the Tate Modern Museum, Modernism “refers to a global movement in society and culture that from the early decades of the twentieth century sought a new alignment with the experience and values of modern industrial life.” Within a broader cultural narrative, modernism emerged as a criticism of nineteenth-century societal order, and trickled down into everything from political activism, urban planning, psychoanalysis, art, and of course, architecture. As we’ve previously explored, Modernist architecture has an important place in America’s history. But how does it factor into Chicago’s past?

After the great Chicago fire in 1871, the city was a blank slate, re-planned over an entirely new grid. With the world’s first skyscraper completed by 1884 (at only ten stories), Chicago was positioned to be a groundbreaking city for architectural innovation. Our triumphant World’s Fair of 1893 solidified the city’s confidence and paved the way for Daniel Burnham to create his comprehensive city plan. Chicago’s architects banded together to decide how to best develop ever-evolving skyscrapers within the city. One such architect was Louis Sullivan, who helped found the Chicago School of architects around his belief that “form forever follows function.” 

If Sullivan’s creed sounds familiar, it’s because function over form is a cornerstone belief embedded in the Modernist tradition. In the mid-1900s, architects from the growing practices in Europe came to the United States to avoid World War I, and subsequently, World War II. Iconic architects, including Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, came to Chicago to set up shop. Striking buildings of steel and glass defined an entire generation of skyscrapers, and still add to Chicago’s diverse range of architecture. 

Chicago was a city that pioneered the world’s forte into stretching and sweeping skylines. Beginning with sleek and simple Modernist structures, Chicago’s architecture is now made all the more standout by the dynamic mix of styles it holds. From Art Deco to Art Nouveau, Chicago School to International Style, Modern to Postmodern, each style is made more its own when juxtaposed with its counterparts.

Through our own addition to Modernism in Chicago, we are proud to create buildings that contribute to the movement’s and the city’s larger legacy. To learn more about Chicago’s Modernist history, the Chicago Architecture Center offers tours specifically dedicated to the style and craft. 

person name goes here

Maintenance Supervisor

Glencoe, IL

    Acceptable file types: *.pdf | *.txt | *.doc, max-size: 2Mb