Tribute to Meinhard von Gerkan

It is with great sadness that we received the news of the passing of Meinhard von Gerkan, an important teacher, mentor, employer, and patron to us. His uncompromising yet unfailingly clear manner, his astuteness, and his precise language have accompanied us since our student days. Many of our colleagues today would attest to the fact that their ability to design buildings and floor plans “self-evidently” – as he would say – profited from his unequivocal yet for the most part justifiable criticism. But the most astonishing – and his defining – aspect about Meinhard von Gerkan as a teacher was his stylistic openness and willingness to appreciate other formal architectural languages that differed from his own output. He also taught us that questions of quality and attitude are directly linked to the capacity for curiosity, creative open-mindedness, and diversity. Predilections for taste mattered little to him, whereas approach, concept, and idea meant a great deal. For him, it was how you arrived at the result that was important. He sometimes said that “designing” is a skill that should be acquired at university, because afterwards there won’t be time to learn it. He always represented his own expectations explicitly.

During his time at the TU Braunschweig, Meinhard von Gerkan shaped a whole new generation of architects, many of whom began their careers at Gerkan, Marg and Partners (gmp) directly after graduating, over time enriching and decisively developing the language of “their” office in a growing number of locations. He also maintained contact with many of his students. We have a lot to thank him for here at GRAFT. He placed a great deal of trust in us, not only as a professor, a promoter of our musical activities, and as our first boss, but primarily as a curator who commissioned us with the implementation of the Jürgen Ponto Stiftung promotional academies. We got to know Meinhard von Gerkan as a person during workshops in the Polish-German border town Görlitz and the city of his birth, Riga. We experienced firsthand his fascination for international architectural exchange and his commitment to using culture to surmount the Iron Curtain. And we got the feeling that in these places he was also confronting his own history and background. The day trips to deserted Latvian beaches and his radiant eyes at closing events hosted at the Latvian National Museum of Art will remain fondly in our memories.

Incidentally, these “early commissions” helped us to establish our office in Berlin; the same goes for our Beijing office, which would never have existed without his belief in China’s aspirations for the future. With his large-scale investments at an early stage, he proved himself to be a pioneer regarding China. One of GRAFT Beijing’s first interior architecture projects was realized in a residential building designed by gmp. The interexchange with him and his office was hugely valuable for us in this fascinating phase of the research in China – something that spurred him on and something that sadly no longer exists in this form. He always saw the positive side of developments there and always believed in cultural exchange. This made him a cultural ambassador for Germany.

With his disarming objectivity and a restrained, unpretentious culture of building that spanned decades, Meinhard von Gerkan endowed pre- and post-unification Germany with one of its many architectural faces. Even if our stylistic preferences and the focuses of our offices weren’t often aligned, we owe Meinhard von Gerkan a great deal and we will always remember his uncompromising quest for a consistent, cogent solution and a strong concept -– this was and will remain an exemplary approach that inspires our architectural thinking.

We extend our deepest sympathies to his family, Volkwin Marg, and all of the team and partners at gmp.