The Sony Center
The roof of the Sony Center in Berlin, Germany. Michael Sohn / Associated Press

What’s That Building? Virtual World Tour, Part 2

The roof of the Sony Center in Berlin, Germany. Michael Sohn / Associated Press
The Sony Center
The roof of the Sony Center in Berlin, Germany. Michael Sohn / Associated Press

What’s That Building? Virtual World Tour, Part 2

The roof of the Sony Center in Berlin, Germany. Michael Sohn / Associated Press

Chicago and Illinois may be starting to reopen, but that doesn’t mean many are ready to travel just yet.

So, let’s continue our virtual visits to Chicago architects’ work in other cities and countries. Last time, we visited out-of-town projects by Chicagoans Adrian Smith in Dubai, Louis Sullivan in Minnesota, Walter Netsch in Colorado and Jeanne Gang in Michigan.

Here are a few of the work of the city’s greatest architects in Germany, Barcelona, Saudi Arabia and Colorado Springs.

Sony Center

The Sony Center in Berlin
Michael Sohn / Associated Press

About this building: One of Helmut Jahn’s most successful and loved buildings in Europe, the Sony Center in Berlin, Germany, is a complex of buildings joined under a soaring roof. Completed in 2000 as the European headquarters of the electronics company, the street-level plaza is what Jahn’s firm has described as a “covered urban forum.”

Chicago connection: Jahn also built the brightly colored, postmodern James R. Thompson Center. Since it opened in 1985, the state of Illinois’ office building on Randolph Street has been both loved or hated by Chicagoans. For nearly five years, two successive governors have tried to sell off the building, hoping to use the proceeds to plug part of Illinois’ gigantic budget gap.

Among the many proposals for the site is a revamp drafted by Jahn. Key to his proposal is opening up the central atrium’s walls to create more of a public plaza under that soaring roof — just like you see in the Sony Center.

Take the virtual tour: In this self-guided tour, use the arrows or mouse to navigate around inside the Sony Center.


The Barcelona Pavilion

The Barcelona Pavilion
Fatlum/Creative Commons

About this building: With collaborator Lilly Reich, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designed the pavilion for the German government’s entry at International Exposition in Barcelona, Spain, in 1929. Mies described the serene, minimalist building as a “zone of tranquility” to be a respite from the bustle of a world’s fair. The building is made of glass, steel, marble, onyx and travertine limestone, with a long, flat roof that appears to float over indoor and outdoor spaces. The building set the tone for modern architecture’s emphasis on clean lines, a blending of indoors and outdoors, and the use of beautiful natural materials like travertine.

The original pavilion was taken down after the fair ended in 1930, but it remained such an influential piece of modern architecture that in the 1980s, Barcelona officials decided to build a replica, which was completed in 1986.

Chicago connection: Nearly a decade later, Mies arrived in Chicago. He was the architect of so many Chicago buildings: the lovely Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology, two sets of twin residential buildings on Lake Shore Drive, the Dirksen Federal Building and the ethereal Farnsworth House out in Plano, among others.

Take the virtual tour: Watch this video tour of the present-day pavilion, which explores Mies’ thinking about this building and others that would come in the next four decades of his career.


The Hajj airport terminal

The Hajj Airport Terminal
sasikan/Creative Commons

About this building: Fazlur Kahn designed the tent-like Hajj Terminal of the King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for Muslims arriving from all over the world for the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. When it opened in 1981, it was the world’s largest cable-stayed, fabric-roofed structure. It mimics the shape of traditional Bedouin tents.

Chicago connection: Kahn was the structural engineer who made structures like the Willis Tower possible. The design for what opened in 1973 as the world’s tallest building relied on Kahn’s concept of “bundled tubes,” where a clustered set of steel tubes together are stronger and more wind resistant than a single large tube.

Kahn first used the concept in 1966 for a residential building on Chestnut Street now called the Plaza on DeWitt. Khan also engineered Chicago’s John Hancock Center and the Brunswick Building (across from Daley Plaza).

Take the virtual tour: Pass under the tent-like ceiling in this video taken by a participant on hajj. You can view the rest of the airport in this video.


Air Force Academy’s Mitchell Hall

Air Force Academy Mitchell Hall
Courtesy of Ann Patton/U.S. Air Force

About this building: On the same campus in Colorado Springs as the Cadet Chapel (visited last time), the Air Force Academy’s dining commons was designed by Gertrude Kerbis — a pioneering woman in architecture during the 1950s. Completed in 1958, it was an achievement for the time. Kerbis and her team engineered a single, 266-foot-long room, uninterrupted by columns, so all 3,000 cadets could eat in the one room at the same time.

Chicago connection: In Chicago, Kerbis designed O’Hare’s Seven Continents/Rotunda Building, round building at O’Hare that originally housed the Seven Continents restaurant, the Skokie Public Library and a condominium cluster in Lincoln Park where each unit has a two-story atrium at its center.

Take the virtual tour: The best views of the interior and roof, as well as views from the building, appear before minute 2 of this promotional video for the Academy.

Dennis Rodkin is a real estate reporter for Crain's Chicago Business and Reset's "What's That Building?" contributor.