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Architect Meinhard von Gerkan
© Wilfried Dechau

Meinhard von Gerkan became famous far beyond Germany at a young age with his design for Berlin’s Tegel Airport. Right at the time of the opening in 1974, the architecture critic of “Die Zeit” Manfred Sack stated: “Tegel is indeed a very good airport, the best in the Federal Republic, there is probably no better one anywhere.” Von Gerkan and his colleague Volkwin Marg had just founded their office gmp in 1965. Young and still inexperienced, they had entered the competition for the West Berlin airport – and won. Tegel was their first project ever, a “drive-in airport” where all the gates were arranged around a hexagon. For those who drove up directly in front of their gate by taxi, it often took only a few minutes to get on the plane due to the decentralised check-in. It was such simple functions and principles, often developed from geometries, that Gerkan was able to use so skilfully that a lot of freedom and great user-friendliness resulted. In the years that followed, gmp grew into one of the largest German offices with around 500 employees on various continents. Meanwhile, Meinhard von Gerkan himself distinguished himself – building, writing and speaking – as a lucid critic of a modernity frozen in dogma.

Meinhard von Gerkan was born in Riga in 1935. His father was killed in the war, his mother died shortly after fleeing. He spent his youth with foster families. He first studied law and physics, then architecture. He has realised more than 300 projects in the past decades: More airports in Hamburg and Stuttgart, the European Patent Office in Munich, the Hanseatic Quarter in Hamburg, the New Trade Fair Centre in Leipzig and the Technical University in Chemnitz – to name but a few. The fact that Berlin’s new main railway station was not realised quite as von Gerkan had wanted, pained him. The architects cannot be held responsible for the political disaster of the BER airport, also planned by gmp.

In the last 20 years, his commitments in Asia made Gerkan one of the first German architects to work globally. Worthy of mention here is the planned city of Nanhui New City near Shanghai, for which a falling drop of water and the concentric circles spreading out on the surface were chosen as a metaphor and urban planning principle. Almost like a garden city, the city unfolds in rings around a large round lake. With its many green spaces and short distances, it is no coincidence that the city, now planned for 800,000 inhabitants, became a model for clever planning in the rapidly densifying conurbations of Asia.

Meinhard von Gerkan died in Hamburg on 1 December at the age of 87.

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