Gottfried Böhm, master architect in concrete, has died | News
MUNICH — Gottfried Böhm, the Pritzker Prize-winning architect who was known for his strikingly sculptural concrete buildings and as a leader of a generation of German architects whose task was nothing less than rebuilding their country in the wake of World War II, died Wednesday at his home in Cologne. He was 101.
His son Paul, also an architect, confirmed the death.
Böhm was considered one of his country’s leading architects long before he won that coveted award, often considered the Nobel for architecture, in 1986. Like his father, expressionist architect Dominikus Böhm (1880-1955), he was highly regarded as a builder of churches. His first, completed in 1949, was Madonna in the Ruins, a chapel that is now part of the Kolumba museum complex in Cologne, a city whose postwar reconstruction he was particularly involved in.
Böhm built the chapel on the site of an early medieval parish church, dating to the year 980, that was destroyed by Allied bombs in 1943. His design incorporated the church’s few surviving elements, including the exterior walls, the northeast pillar of the main nave and the 15th-century life-size statue of the Virgin Mary that lent the reconsecrated church its name.
A year later, Böhm began working for Cologne’s official reconstruction program, which was headed by noted architect Rudolf Schwarz.
“Mountains of rubble flowered beautifully there,” Böhm said of postwar Cologne in the 2014 documentary film “Concrete Love: The Böhm Family.” “It was a mountain world. It fascinated me.”
Like Madonna in the Ruins, many of Böhm’s buildings created a dialogue between old, often violently destroyed edifices and modern designs and materials.
During the Pritzker Prize ceremony, in Goldsmiths’ Hall in London, Prince Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, himself an architect as well as a member of the British royal family, paid tribute to Böhm, citing “the confidence with which he sites his new structures onto the remains of older structures, linking the future with the past.”
Arguably, the defining work of Böhm’s career was the Roman Catholic Pilgrimage Church at Neviges, known in German as the Wallfahrtsdom or the Mariendom, close to the city of Wuppertal, in northwest Germany.
Completed in 1968, it is a monumental brutalist Gesamtkunstwerk, or total of work of art, whose jagged concrete roof has been likened to a tent, a crystal and an iceberg. Set at the top of a hill, the church rises imposingly above the picturesque houses of medieval Neviges.
Gottfried Böhm was born Jan. 23, 1920, in the river city of Offenbach-am-Main, near Frankfurt, the youngest of three sons of Dominikus and Maria Böhm. His paternal grandfather was an architect as well. As a child, Gottfried enjoyed going to his father’s studio and designing windows and other simple architecture details.
He was drafted into the Wehrmacht in 1939 and served until being wounded during the Russia campaign in 1942 and sent back to Germany. He rarely spoke about the war, but in the 2014 documentary, he recalled a slaughter in the High Tatra Mountains. “My task was to shoot,” he said. “We were mountaineers. There was a murderous hail of bullets, and we suffered many losses. Right next to me. Right in front of me.”
After he was demobilized, he studied architecture at Technical University in Munich, where he received a degree in 1946. He spent another year studying sculpture at that city’s Academy of Arts, in what he later called an attempt to distance himself from his father, who considered Gottfried his successor and whom Gottfried was afraid to disappoint.