30 July 2010

Günter Behnisch, German modernist architect, 1922–2010

The architect who gave post-War Germany a new face, Günther Behnisch, passed away in July at the age of 88. 

His radical modern designs, including the Munich Olympic Stadium, marked a departure from the bombastic architecture of the Nazi era and shaped the face of the new German democracy.

The world gazed at Behnisch's work on August 26, 1972 with the opening of the Munich Olympic Games. The stadium he designed at the age of 50 was an icon – a perfect symbol for the new, democratic Germany (He designed the Olympic park together with the architect Frei Otto and the landscape planner Günther Grzimek).

Olympic Park and Stadium, Munich

The open, undulating tent roof that seems so light, so weightless, reaches well beyond the actual stadium. The magically woven, transparent carpet, 75,000 square metres in size, rests gently on the Olympic Park and sent a powerful message: A democratic, open country is welcoming the nations of the world. It was an attempt to distinguish West Germany from the bombastic architecture of the Nazi era when Berlin had hosted the 1936 Olympics.

Behnisch, who was born in 1922 and who became a submarine commander in WWII, took an interest in architecture when he picked up a book on the subject in a hotel in the Italian port of La Spezia. "It was about how you construct buildings. The war was over and I had to do something for a living," he recalled. He became a prisoner of war; the British released him in 1947. After that he studied architecture in Stuttgart. He opened an office in 1952 and quickly gained kudos for designing school buildings and sports halls.

In 1973, Behnisch was awarded the coveted task of designing the new parliament in the then-West German capital, Bonn, but the project dragged on for an eternity. He only got the green light in 1987 for a modified version, and in 1992, his parliament building was finally opened. But Germany was reunited by then, and the Parliament moved to Berlin at the end of the 1990s.
Plenary Hall, Bonn (1991 - 1992)

Focusing more on public buildings than residences – his website lists only nine residential projects – many other of his designs were highly regarded, but much less in the limelight than the Olympic Stadium or the Plenary Hall:
Tower of the Nürnberg Airport (1997-1999)

NordLB bank in Hannover (1999-2002)

Therme Bad Aibling (hot mineral springs), in Bad Aibling outside of Munich (which my wife and I visited in winter 2008, swimming from the inside to the outside on a crisp and clear winter night – incredible!)

Buchheim-Museum, Bernied (1997 - 2001) located on Starnberg Lake outside of Munich, dedicated to the Buchheim art (as well as knick-knack) collection. The structure, just down the road from my wife’s and my Bavarian base camp, resembles a ship, jutting at a 90° angle towards and over the lake.

The Berlin Academy of the Arts was his last spectacular project, but also rightly criticized for design faults such as excessive noise and not enough space.

Berlin planning department officials had been horrified by his plan for a high-tech glass façade. "Why not?" said Behnisch the modernist. "I never even thought of putting a stone façade there. We didn't want to awaken any associations with the pretentiousness of the Hitler and Wilhelminian architecture." 

He deeply disliked the new style of the Berlin republic and of its architecture. He regarded historical copies as the architecture of security that served a petit-bourgeois yearning for comfort at a time when bold new visions were needed. "If someone needs comfort, they should get a cat," he once said laconically.

Günter Behnisch died on 12 July 2010 in his home in Stuttgart, Germany.

Excerpted from and based on an article in the Der Spiegel, published 7/13/2010 


Please make your opinion heard – and at the same time donate to a charity for free! 

How? Participate in the poll "what modern magazines do you read?" – see last Friday's post.
For every vote the poll (left column) receives, I will donate $1 (up to $100) to The Children's Aid Society, rated among the Top Ten charities by CharityNavigator.org.
Many thanks!

23 July 2010

Survey: what do you read?

I know it's Friday the 22nd, and the next MSF post isn't due until next week. But to keep you on your toes and see if you're awake, I designed a short survey for you.
  • Since you are interested in modern architecture, would you share with me which modern architecture print publications you read (and with reading I mean at least one out of every four issues)? 
For every vote the poll (left column) receives, I will donate $1 (up to $100) to The Children's Aid Society, rated among the Top Ten charities by CharityNavigator.org.

If there is a cherished publication I overlooked, let me know please – either by comment or email me privately. Many thanks and have a fine weekend!

02 July 2010

Modernist Field Trip, Happy 4th!

If you don’t know about the non-profit Triangle Modernist Houses (TMH) and the man who created it, George Smart: it’s about time. TMH’s goal is to document, preserve and promote residential modernist architecture. And it succeeds on all levels. George and his Mod Squad, most of them based in the Triangle area in North Carolina, are modernist maniacs, in the best and most complimentary sense.

One of TMH’s activities are field trips to interesting properties, mostly private residences not open to the public. I took part in one two weeks ago together with 13 of the nicest modernistas you can imagine, and had a blast.

Flying very early in the morning from Raleigh to Baltimore, we spent the day in the DC area and returned late at night. One of the trip highlights was a visit to the private Brown residence, Richard Neutra’s only house he built in DC and his last one in the US; he didn’t see it’s completion.

Brown house, built in 1968. 4,000 sf including an addition by Heather Willson Cass from the early 90's, which won an A1A award. – Many thanks again to the Browns, extraordinarily gracious hosts.

Neutra, born in Austria (and thus pronounced Noitra), immigrated to the US in 1923 and died in Germany in 1970. He built mostly in California, but also in Texas, Michigan and even complete subdivisions in Germany.

Famous for querying clients about their expectations in detail, he sometimes used questionnaires to discover his client's needs. In case of the Browns – and much to their surprise – Neutra even moved in with them for two weeks in their previous residence, to better observe their lifestyle. The result is beautiful.

Find out more about Neutra's projects (as well as upcoming trips) on TMH’s website.
If you follow the business news, you certainly read by now that May housing statistics on the national level are simply dismal. It seems that without intervention or a considerably improved economy, the housing market is far from being able to leave the bed and walk, not even mentioning being released from the sick ward.
Here in the Southeast, we will be baking around 90°F or 32°C this 4th of July weekend, so a cozy fire for a nice little barbecue seems appropriate. (For my last one, I got up at 5:30 am, and after smoldering for 14 hours, the pork butt emerged so tender we didn’t need knifes or even forks.)

In that spirit: have a laid-back, relaxed and delicious Independence Day!