From the 1960s onward, Helmut Jacoby was regarded as one of the most relevant draftsmen of his time. Born in Halle an der Saale, Germany, Jacoby left Europe in 1952 to study architecture at Harvard. Upon graduating, he remained in the United States for several years and rendered the works of many of the most prominent of the time such as Eero Saarinen, Marcel Breuer, I.M Pei and Paul Rudolph. At the end of the 1960s, Jacoby returned to Europe where he later met Norman Foster and began a long-lasting collaboration.
After finishing his studies at Harvard, Jacoby worked for several years as a renderer in the United States. Tired of working as a freelance draftsman, Helmut Jacoby flew back to Europe,highly disenchanted with the drafing profession and with an uncertain future ahead. His drawings had earned a reputation amongst American architects, and publishers such as Hatje Cantz Publishing. These publications reached Norman Foster in 1971, a short time after Jacoby had returned to Europe. With a great interest in his drafting skills, Foster approached Jacoby and invited him to London. Foster and his partner at the time Michael Hopkins, took Jacoby to visit the recently inaugurated IBM Headquarters in Cosham. Jacoby immediately fell in love with the project and with Foster’s approach to architecture. In Jacoby’s words “Norman asked if I could prepare some projects for his new project, The Willis Faber Office Building in Ipswich, to which I responded with an interest I had not felt for quite some time. He actually stopped my lethargy with his innovative and qualitative design toward architectural drawing now and then”.
From the perspectives of Willis Faber & Dumas onward, Helmut Jacoby’s skillful drawings helped to propel Foster Associates onto the international architecture scene. Along with Birkin Haward’s and Jan Kaplicky’s drawings, Helmut Jacoby contributed to a distinctive repertoire of cutting-edge drawings techniques across the firm.
Trained as an architect and mechanical engineer, Jacoby’s constructive and technical skills were key to addressing the apparent complexity of the drawings. The results are highly accurate and technical, where every single line finds its correct spot. With his characteristic monochromatic palette, he created detailed drawings, with a meticulous yet poetic orchestration of characters and situations within each drawing. Jacoby’s aim was always to show a project in the most realistic way, and the closest to how it would look like when built, embracing the surrounding ambience. He considers context as a tool for shaping the representation of the project, whether in a landscape or cityscape, always creating a blend between contrasted elements.
Jacoby’s drawings were all about the atmosphere and the scale of the project, aiming to immerse the client or general viewer into a situation that they could relate to. It could be said that Jacoby brought with him the American tradition to Europe, something he had in common with Foster after his years at Yale, that deeply influenced his technical understanding.
The value of Jacoby’s illustrations lies in the complexity of the layering techniques that contribute to the creation of his realistic expressions of context-integrated buildings and structures. By juxtaposing a variety of drawing materials, such as cardboard and translucent paper, he manages to control the overall composition and 3-dimensionality of drawings, always creating a balance between light and dark areas, hue and shadows, and the interplay of the different planes within. Having an eye for perspective drawing, Jacoby is capable of representing both interior and exterior views by avoiding any distortion of reality through a precise viewing point, frame and angle. His drawings transport viewers to spatial microcosms in which the representations of light, material finishes, and depth of each situation allow them to almost hear the informal chats of an office or the ambient noise of a busy street.
During his years of collaboration with Norman Foster, Helmut Jacoby produced rendered images for the following projects:
- Pavilion Badhoevedorp, Netherlands, 1973 - (unbuilt)
- Oslo Kontorer Offices, Oslo, Norway, 1974 - (unbuilt)
- Carré d'Art, Nîmes, France, 1984 - 1993
- Kansai International Airport Competition, Osaka, Japan, 1988
- Sackler Galleries, Royal Academy of Arts, London, United Kingdom, 1991
- Reichstag, New German Parliament, Berlin, Germany, 1992 - 1999