On November 30, 2022, the architect Meinhard von Gerkan passed away in Hamburg at the age of 87. He was one of the most influential German architects, a committed university professor, and an astute critic. For more than fifty years he contributed significantly to developments in architecture within Germany and far beyond.
In 1965, he and Volkwin Marg founded von Gerkan, Marg and Partners Architects (gmp), an architectural practice that today has about 600 employees in seven locations and is one of the largest practices in Germany. Since then, gmp has completed more than 500 projects all over the world. Some of the outstanding buildings that bear the hallmark of Meinhard von Gerkan and have received numerous awards include the Berlin-Tegel, Hamburg, and Stuttgart airports, the main railway station in Berlin, and the Christus Pavilion for EXPO 2000, which was later moved to Volkenroda Monastery, where it remains today. Owing to Meinhard von Gerkan’s active involvement, the practice has completed over 170 projects in China, including the conversion and extension of the Chinese National Museum in Beijing, and the masterplan for Nanhui New City near Shanghai. In Vietnam, the practice’s best-known buildings include the Hanoi Museum and the Vietnamese National Assembly.
“I am proud of what Meinhard and I, together with our partners and staff, have created over the last half century; proud of our buildings, which enjoy recognition and appreciation in both Germany and around the world", says Volkwin Marg. “Together, we always stood up for good architecture; very often we were successful, and sometimes we were not. Meinhard’s entrepreneurial courage and far-sighted approach prepared the way for the future of our practice”.
As an author and critic, von Gerkan commented on his own work and contributed to the debate on architecture in numerous books, articles, and lectures. As a professor at Braunschweig Technical University, where he held the Chair at the Institute for Building Design from 1974 to 2002, he was influential in shaping a whole generation of architects. He received honorary doctorates from Philips University in Marburg in 2002 and from Chung Yuan Christian University in 2005. In 2007, the School of Design of East China Normal University in Shanghai awarded von Gerkan an honorary professorship and, since 2014, he was Advising Professor at Tongji University in Shanghai.
Von Gerkan was co-founder of the gmp Foundation and of the Academy for Architectural Culture (aac). The aac is a non-profit organization focused on the educational development of graduates and young architects. He received the Baukultur prize of the Association of German Architects (BDA), the Federal Cross of Merit (1st Class), the Liang Sicheng Award of the Architectural Society of China, and the Romanian State Prize. In November 2021 he was appointed Grand Officer of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Latvia.
Obituary for my friend and companion
Meinhard von Gerkan
With deep gratitude I say farewell to my friend and companion of many years, Meinhard von Gerkan. Behind us lie six creative decades of shared designing and planning – starting out in our shared student pad and, since 1965, in the office of our architectural partnership. What started as a two-man enterprise with a small ad in the Hamburger Abendblatt (“Architectural drawings produced very cheaply, Tel.: 451026”) has today become a worldwide successful company.
I am proud of what Meinhard and I, together with our partners and staff, have created over the last half century. Proud of our buildings, which enjoy recognition and appreciation in Germany and worldwide. Together, we have always made a stand for good architecture; very often we were successful, and sometimes we were not. At the same time, our working style changed only slightly over the more than fifty years of our time working together. Loosely based on General Moltke’s maxim, “Marching separately, defeating together”, we produced our designs separately, but always discussed all major principles with each other. We were of one mind in our approach to design, so that we were able to act on the basis of the same principles – both conceptually and in terms of content - always discussing the genius loci, the functional purpose, and the need for social quality and dignified architecture. To the very last, we enjoyed our bond based on inspirational cooperation. I will sorely miss this exchange with him.
In addition, we shared the experiences of our generation: the horrors of the Second World War, the consequences of the Cold War, the partition of Germany, the fall of the Berlin Wall, German reunification, and the European Union. We had the good fortune to start in times of peace and to live in a democracy. In both architecture and urban design, we had the freedom to produce solutions for shaping the environment at various different levels. We both felt equally committed to passing on our experience to the younger generation, also outside of our practice. Therefore, our work as university professors and in the gmp Foundation was particularly important to us. Meinhard’s creative thinking will stay alive and flourish, in particular at the Academy for Architectural Culture (aac).
Meinhard von Gerkan passed away surrounded by his loving family. In the end, he lost his strength and his passing came as a relief to him. He reached the end of a truly fulfilled life.