Design: And Now, the Tallest of the Tall

A high-flying architect-and-developer team aims for 150 stories

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Jahn and Trump have passed up a much greater opportunity, however: the chance to create an intricately woven place, a true city within a city, complete with streets, courtyards, a variety of building types, maybe even a sense of community. The land is so vast and comparatively cheap (Trump paid $1 million an acre, vs. the $26 million an acre paid for a midtown block at the same time) that high-rise construction is surely not, for once, the only practical option. But the pair will take the easy way out, designing housing wholesale. What about all the new passengers added to overburdened mass transit? Says Trump airily: "We'll renovate a couple of subway stations, et cetera, et cetera." Planners of housing for the poor realized years ago that isolated high-rise flats foster a dangerous anomie. Condo buyers may be unlikely to join street gangs, but Television City will be an interesting experiment: extreme swank and large-scale alienation, together for the first time.

The match of developer and designer is apt. Jahn's work tends to be glossy, imposing and a little martial, the architectural equivalent of Wagner played on a synthesizer at full blast. He is the Donald Trump of his field, a showman enthralled by sheer size. "We are doing the tallest building in Houston," says Jahn, "the tallest building in Philadelphia, the tallest building in Europe." He arrived from West Germany 19 years ago, at age 26; at 33 he was partner and design director of C.F. Murphy Associates in Chicago; at 43 he was owner and chief executive officer of Murphy/Jahn. Today, employing 100 architects, Jahn has five buildings under construction in Manhattan. Other projects are under way or just finished in Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Johannesburg.

Jahn embraces the technology of high-rise modernism, but he loves to fold glass curtain walls into more or less old-fashioned building shapes, monumental moderne. His recent designs are plainly derivative of skyscrapers from the Golden Age. The Television City office tower, for instance, is a nice-looking relative of the General Electric building in New York City (1931) and the Tribune Tower in Chicago (1925); the three slabs just south of the 150-story spire are like slightly squished Empire States. How come? No reason in particular. "These are not meant to be 'New York buildings,'" says Jahn. "What is a New York building?" Anyway, he adds, "architecture at the end is irrational, very intuitive. It's a matter of feeling 'That's what I want to do.'" --By Kurt Andersen

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