Gottfried Böhm (1920–2021)
10. June 2021
Maria, Königin des Friedens Pilgrimage Church, Neviges, Germany, 1968 (Photo: seier+seier/Wikimedia Commons)
Known for sculptural churches made of concrete, German architect Gottfried Böhm, recipient of the 1986 Pritzker Architecture Prize, died on Wednesday, June 9, at home in Cologne. He was 101.
Writing in the 1961 guidebook The New Architecture of Europe, G. E. Kidder Smith boasted that "no other country can touch the new German churches in quality or quantity," with notable ones on the following pages designed by Rudolf Schwarz, an early influence on Gottfried, and Dominikus Böhm, Gottfried's father, who died in 1955. Gottfried's own St. Albert in Saarbrücken is included in the book, but it was later, in 1968, when he built his religious masterwork, the Maria, Königin des Friedens Pilgrimage Church, or Mariendom, in Neviges. It and the City Hall of Bensberg were singled out in the announcement of Böhm's Pritzker Prize in 1986, when he became the first German architect to win "architecture's Nobel."
Gottfried was born in Offenbach-am-Main, near Frankfurt, on January 23, 1920, into a family with two generations of architects; his paternal grandfather was also an architect. Gottfried worked with his father from 1947 until the year of his father's death. Their first building together was the Chapel of St. Kolumba in Cologne, which was later absorbed into Kolumba museum complex designed by Peter Zumthor.
Gottfried's early work on his own was very much in the vein of his father, Rudolf Schwarz, and other architects in Germany, with sculptural concrete in churches in abundance (more than 70 churches during his career!) — none more famous or enduring than Mariendom. Following the postwar church-building boom, Böhm's commissions shifted to residential and commercial projects out of steel and glass. Later buildings, such as the Kaufhaus Peek & Cloppenburg in Berlin and Ulm City Library show Böhm's buildings remaining sculptural, regardless of materials.
Ulm City Library, 2004 (Photo: timsdad/Wikimedia Commons)
Gottfried was married to Elizabeth Haggenmüller (1921–2012), whom he met in 1948 and was also an architect. Together they had four sons; three of them — Stephan, Peter and Paul — are architects as well. Peter Böhm Architekten is the successor firm to the practice set up by his grandfather, Dominikus, in 1921, and succeeded by Gottfried in 1954.
In January 2015, the month Gottfried turned 95, the documentary Concrete Love: The Böhm Family made its international premiere; the film tells the story of the many generations of Böhm-family architects. And then last year, to celebrate Gottfried's centenary, sixteen institutions came together to organize BÖHM100: twelve months of lectures, symposia, exhibitions, and excursions in Cologne and other parts of Germany. Unfortunately, the pandemic led to the cancelation of the parts of the celebration that could not be moved online.