Helmut Jahn wanted to create a new landmark.
The legendary postmodernist architect – known for the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago, among many other buildings – was tapped by the Pritzker Military Museum & Library to design a new storage facility in 2018. Pritzker’s Chicago home was running out of room for its collection of over 100,000 military artifacts and was looking to an open site northwest of Kenosha to expand.
“When we first contacted Jahn, we explained the mission and he was very interested,” says Roberto Bravo, the museum’s senior director. “He wanted to make the building resemble a tank, but to make it so aesthetically pleasing that it wasn’t obvious.”
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That resemblance starts with the slanted ceiling and the jutting support beams, like the turret extending over the edge of a tank. Jahn designed the walls in flat, UV-proof glass to keep the interior full of natural light but displayed artifacts – the archives’ collection ranges from military maps and photographs to rifles and bayonets – safe.
Equally as striking as the tank theme is the building’s bright red accents.
“Jahn picked a color every year; red was his color that year,” says Dustin DePue, the director of museum collections. “That particular red – they called it ‘Jahn Red’ – was part of his pitch. … [The building] was described as something you can see from 94 as you’re driving down. I was impressed by the boldness.”
Jahn never got to see his vision come to fruition, as he died in May 2021, seven months after ground broke on his final design. The building (10475 12th St., Somers) is scheduled to be completed by December and will likely be open to the public in 2024.