Photo: Elke Wetzig via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

With the passing of Gottfried Böhm on 9 June, Germany has lost one of its most eminent 20th-century architects and a defining figure of post-war architecture. He died in Cologne aged 101. The son of architect Dominikus Böhm (born 1880, died 1955), Gottfried Böhm was born in Offenbach am Main on 23 January 1920 and grew up in Cologne. His father had made a name for himself as a church architect and creator of almost archaic sacred spaces. His son followed in his footsteps, as many houses of worship in Germany were destroyed after the Second World War. The membership of the two largest churches was also growing at the same time, so generous amounts of money were available for rebuilding or for new churches.

Böhm’s renown is rooted in his sculptural buildings, which primarily consist of concrete, steel and glass. His first building of his own was Cologne’s “Madonna of the Ruins” chapel. His signature work is considered to be pilgrimage church in Neviges, near Düsseldorf. Made of concrete with a powerful, craggy silhouette jutting out towards the heavens, it has been a polarising building since its opening in 1968 and gained its “God’s Mountains” epithet shortly thereafter. Böhm designed over 50 religious buildings in total, including spaces that were light and bright with a cheery – though never undecided – feeling. Böhm’s most famous secular building would be the town hall of Bensberg, near Cologne. Some of the final buildings completed with Böhm’s involvement include the Hans Otto Theater in Potsdam and DİTİB Central Mosque in Ehrenfeld, Cologne.

Although his buildings were almost only in Germany, his work was noticed and acclaimed internationally. This is attested to by his Pritzker Prize, the world’s most significant architecture award, which he received in 1986 as the first German to do so. His sons, Stephan, Peter and Paul, all work in architecture and visual art and have taken over their father’s architecture firm or are themselves self-employed. With his inclination for basic geometric forms such as the circle, square and triangle, Gottfried Böhm also bequeathed them another preference, alongside the expressive and the sculptural. In 2014, the documentary “Concrete Love – the Böhm Family”, by Maurizius Staerkle Drux, provided illuminating and touching insights into the creative family building devoted to a harmony of life and work.

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