By Mark Zeh
Munich, Germany, July 19, 2010
On July 12, Professor Dr. E.h. Günter Behnisch passed away in Stuttgart at the age of 88. During his colorful, active life, he’d been a U-Boat commander during the Second World War, a prisoner of war in England after the war, then one of the leading architects helping to define Germany’s transformation into a more-open and freer society.
After studying architecture at the Stuttgart Technical University (now Stuttgart University) in 1948, he founded his first office in 1952. His practice was particularly active creating schools, sports halls and universities during Germany’s years of reconstruction.
Behnisch is probably best-known, internationally, for his work in creating the Munich Olympiapark for the XXth Olympic Games in 1972. Good thing that progressive thinkers, such as German architect Egon Eiermann and politicians, such as Munich’s mayor, Hans-Jochen Vogel, sat on the jury that decided the 1967 competition. Without their motivation to create a strong break from the past, Munich probably would have awarded the competition for the Olympiapark to one of the more conventional types of stadium proposals at the time. These still-futuristic, iconic structures remain a precious symbol of modern Germany and of Munich.
“Behnisch’s concept of a ‘coördinated, or designed landscape,’ optimistically combining the forms of the hills of scraped-up rubble from the post-war reconstruction of Munich, with the influence of the modern, organic forms piloted by Frei Otto at the 1967 Montréal Expo, is a masterpiece,“ says Dipl.-Ing. Jürgen Hennicke. “I worked on this as my first job at Frei Otto’s atelier, after graduating from University. Behnisch had won the competition to design the Olympiapark with his modernist concept. My involvement came when he’d needed to translate his architectural ideas into some finalized models and forms that could then be engineered and built. A colleague and I were sent to Behnisch’s office to help them with modeling and final form-finding.”
“The landmark roofs of the Olympiapark were his first and last tensile net project,” says Em. Prof Dr.-Ing. Dr. A.A. Dr. Sc. H.C. Frei Otto. “He was a great architect and a good friend-he was always doing things that were right for a given situation. Personally, I think that his proposal for the German Parliament building in Bonn, which unfortunately remains unbuilt, was probably his best concept.”
Günter Behnisch was also active for most of his professional life as a professor in architecture at the University of Darmstadt. He was awarded a Prof. Emeritus after 20 years of teaching there. Behnisch’s last personally-realized work was the Academy of Arts in Berlin in 2005. His son, Stefan Behnisch, along with his partners, continues the practice of Behnisch Architekten.
Günter Behnisch received numerous personal honors, as well as prizes and awards for many of his buildings:
- 1972 Federal German Architects, (BDA), Highest Architecture Prize
- 1981 UIA Auguste Perret Prize
- 1982 Behnisch accepted into the Berlin Academy of Arts
- 1984 Awarded an Honorary Doctorship by Stuttgart University
- 1991 Becomes Professor of the International Academy of Architecture in Sofia
- 1992 Honorary Memberships in the BDA, and the Scottish Royal Incorporation of Architects in Edinburgh, Scotland; “Médaille d’Or”, Académie d’Architecture, Paris; and the International Olympics Committee’s Honorary Prize for Exceptional Services in the areas of Sport and Architecture
- 1993 Honored with the Hans Molfenter Prize of the Land Capital Stuttgart, presented for special artistic services
- 1994 Became a member of Sofia’s International Academy of Architecture, and awarded the University of Karlsruhe’s Heinrich Hertz Professorship; Association of Lithuanian Architects Honorary Medal, Vilnius
- 1995 Honorary Membership, The Royal Institute of British Architects, London
- 1996 Became a Founding Member of the Saxon Academy of Arts, in Dresden
- 1997 Awarded the German Federal Republic’s Order for Service
- 1998 Fritz Schumacher Prize from the Alfred Toepfer Foundation F.V.S., Hamburg
- 2001 Wolfgang Hirsch Award from the Rheinland-Pflaz Chamber of Architects, in Mainz, Germany; Honorable Mention, Korean International Architectural Culture Festival, Busan
- 2006 Presented with Honorary Membership of the Keyseri Chamber of Architects in Turkey
- 2008 Awarded the German Critics Prize
Mark Zeh is a contributing editor to Fabric Architecture magazine.
Dipl.-Ing. Jürgen Hennicke, July 2010
Em.Prof Dr.-Ing. Dr.A.A. Dr.Sc.H.C. Frei Otto, July, 2010