July 20, 2018 | Report on Emil Steffann talk© Özkan Bucaklı
The work of Emil Steffann
Past, present, future - 50 years from his death
The architect Emil Steffann (1899–1968) is one of the most important church designers of his generation. Around 40 churches and monasteries emerged from his studio between 1950 and 1968 – all responding directly to their specific situation, yet expressing an unmistakeable and highly personal architectural language.
Marking this year's 50th anniversary of his death, on the 20th of July the Chair of Architectural History at RWTH Aachen University and the association "Dialograum Kreuzung an St. Helena" have held an evening of lectures to commemorate the life and work of this renowned but now largely forgotten architect, demonstrating the lasting significance of his architecture and thus helping to revive appreciation of his oeuvre. The appropriate setting for such an event was found in the church of St. Helena in Bonn, built at the beginning of the 1960s by Emil Steffann and Nikolaus Rosiny.
To the organizers' delight, that evening more than forty interested people found their way to Bonn's Nordstadt – among them not only numerous members of Emil Steffann’s family, but also two long-standing collaborators, Gisberth Hülsmann and Josef Lorenz.
After a welcoming speech and a short introduction by the architectural historian Dr. Caroline Helmenstein, the philosopher and musician Georges Paul opened the program with a brief look at the terms "art" and "religion" in Hegel's Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences. As a member of the association "Dialograum Kreuzung an St. Helena", he also added a couple of remarks on the church of St. Helena and emphasized the room’s unique spatial atmosphere and its many possible uses.
In the second lecture "Emil Steffann – Schlaglichter auf Leben und Werk", Caroline Helmenstein traced the architect's path through life, in which the decision to work as an architect is closely intertwined with his conversion to Catholicism and which in the case of Steffann therefore is indispensable for a full understanding of his approach to architecture.
The ideal supplement to Dr. Helmenstein’s lecture was then offered in the following contribution by the Italian architect Dr. Tino Grisi, author of the first complete illustrated study of his sacral buildings "Können wir noch Kirchen bauen?" Emil Steffann und sein Atelier. He limited himself to just a few words and instead expressed his thoughts on Emil Steffann's work in a short film entitled Architecture and Truth.
Finally, the art historian Dr. Martin Bredenbeck in his talk "Steffanns Erbe(n) - Kirchen zwischen Umutzung und Abriss" linked Steffann’s work to the present by reflecting the increasing re-use of liturgical spaces.
The four talks were accompanied by a small exhibition of architectural models made by students of RWTH Aachen, which illustrated the fundamentals of Steffann's design thinking and which, by means of their positioning within the space, gave an idea about the links between the various projects while panels with short texts provided basic information on each of the models.
A small drinks reception marked the end of the evening, which from the organizers' point of view, constituted a fitting celebration of the architect and church designer Emil Steffann.
The lecture evening was made possible by the Landesinitiative StadtBauKultur NRW, the Rheinischer Verein für Denkmalpflege und Landschaftsschutz, the BDA Landesverband NRW and the BDB Bonn-Rhein-Sieg, for whose support the organizers offer their sincere thanks.
Georges Paul: Absoluter Geist. Kunst und Religion in Hegels Enzyklopädie
Dr. Caroline Helmenstein: Emil Steffann – Schlaglichter auf Leben und Werk
Dr. Tino Grisi: Architektur und Wahrheit
Dr. Martin Bredenbeck: Steffanns Erbe(n) – Kirchen zwischen Umnutzung und Abriss