Bernhard Rotterdam | Stefan Knecht

  Interior of a church Copyright: Stefan Knecht  

Bernhard Rotterdam and the Experiment of Another Modernism


Bernhard Rotterdam (1893-1974) was one of the most influential architects in the Rhineland, contributing decisively to the townscape of many cities and communities around Cologne with numerous works. Despite architecturally shaping the times of Weimar Republic, National Socialism and the early Federal Republic through many buildings, research has not yet focused on Bernhard Rotterdam’s work.

Before Rotterdam was known as a representative of post-war modernism, he already practised his profession for multiple decades, experimenting with various approaches for ecclesiastical private and public projects. Today’s view on German architecture before 1933 is strongly dominated by Bauhaus and classical modernism, which aspired the abolishment of traditional and regional references in architecture - after the collapse of the German Empire in 1918 - in favour of the International Style. However, the young architect had a different point of view at that time. Influenced by teachers and models like Emil Fahrenkamp, Wilhelm Kreis and Dominikus Böhm, Rotterdam searched for opportunities to connect traditional elements of architecture with modern means of design instead of radically refusing them. What kind of strategies did the architect use to overcome the declared opposition of tradition and modernism? While his former teachers openly offered their work to the ruling party of the National Socialist dictatorship, Bernhard Rotterdam didn’t want to lose his influence and assignments. How did his designs react under the pressure of totalitarian rule and what was left of his architectural ideals articulated before?

The purpose of this dissertation is to document and revaluate the early creative period of Bernhard Rotterdam’s career as an architect regarding its historical context. Furthermore, this dissertation examines the controversial term "another modernism" in connection with Rotterdam’s most important buildings and designs before 1945. It aims to clarify whether the term "another modernism" could be a description for a more moderate and historically conscious modern architecture in distinction from classical modernism.