Professor Josef Paul Kleihues

Berlin and international architect

Friday 10 September 2004 00:00 BST

Josef Paul Kleihues was an outstanding architect who over decades helped to transform the face of Berlin by his restoration of old buildings and by his innovative and sometimes astonishing contemporary structures.

Josef Paul Kleihues, architect: born Rheine, Germany 11 June 1933; died Berlin 13 August 2004.

Josef Paul Kleihues was an outstanding architect who over decades helped to transform the face of Berlin by his restoration of old buildings and by his innovative and sometimes astonishing contemporary structures.

Not content with that, he was responsible for other fine buildings in West Germany and abroad, including the United States. He started with a small hospital project, went on to a building for West Berlin's cleansing department and progressed to museums, houses, hotels and shopping precincts. There seemed to be nothing which did not interest him. He even designed street furnishings such as public lavatories, bus shelters, sales kiosks, benches, litter receptacles and tourist information boards.

Josef Paul Kleihues was born in 1933, in the small and ancient town of Rheine not far from the Dutch border. Apart from himself, the only other notable son was the writer Josef Winckler. Kleihues' childhood and youth were overshadowed by the Third Reich and its aftermath. Some of Rheine's historic buildings like Kloster Bentlage (dating back to 1437) and the Falkenhof-Museum must have fired his imagination and given him a love of beautiful buildings.

From 1955 to 1957 Kleihues studied architecture and engineering at the Stuttgart polytechnic and, from 1957 to 1959, at the Technical University of Berlin. After graduation, in 1959, a scholarship enabled him to spend a year at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. In 1960 he joined the architectural practice of Peter Poelzig in West Berlin but in 1962 he founded, with Hans Heinrich Moldenschardt, his own practice.

In some respects this required a degree of courage. The Berlin Wall cut the city in two from August 1961 and West Berlin was like a beleaguered outpost. It was kept alive and independent by West German subsidies and the military presence of the US, British and French armed forces. In 1967 Kleihues took another big decision, becoming solely responsible for the practice he had founded.

Among Kleihues' first big contracts were the main workshop of the Berlin city cleansing department in Berlin-Tempelhof (1969-78), houses on Vinetaplatz in Berlin-Wedding (1971-77) and the hospital in Berlin-Neukölln (1973-86). Having established a second office in Dülmen-Rorup, Westphalia, his home area, in 1973, he started to accept commissions outside West Berlin, with projects in Hanover, Solingen and Frankfurt/M.

From 1973 Kleihues held the chair of architectural design and theory and from 1986 he served as chair of design and urban planning at Dortmund University. From 1986 to 1991 he was Irwin S. Chanin Distinguished Professor at the Cooper Union in New York, and, from 1994 to 1998, professor at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf. Between 1979 and 1987 he was director of the Internationale Bauausstellung Berlin IBA. He also served, in 1987, as guest professor (Eero Saarinen Chair) at the Graduate School of Architecture, Yale University.

Kleihues became known for his museum projects which included the Sprengel Museum, Hanover (1972), the Museum of Prehistory in Frankfurt (1980-86), the Civic Gallery and Lütze Museum in Sindelfingen (1987-90), and the project for the Berlin Museum of Contemporary Art, an adaptive reuse of a 19th-century railway station, Hamburger Bahnhof.

Kleihues was awarded his first commission in the US in 1991. Following a year-long search and the review of more than 200 nominations, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago, announced Kleihues' selection as architect of the MCA's new home. His design combines his "poetic rationalist style" with respect for the functions of the building. The design takes account of the tradition of modern architecture in Chicago and conveys both clarity of structure and a spirit of innovation. It received wide praise. Deborah Solomon, art critic of The Wall Street Journal, thought the interior "probably the most viewer-friendly in the country".

In an entirely different direction, in 1992 Kleihues embarked upon a shopping and garage complex in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, a town now considered by Unesco a World Heritage Site. Santiago is certainly one of Spain's most monumental towns, with a particular architectural style of its own, thus presenting him with a new challenge to produce something functional which blended in with its ancient buildings.

German reunification in 1990, and the reuniting of East and West Berlin, presented great challenges and opportunities for Kleihues and other architects. He was responsible for the Kant Dreieck, the brief for which called for a slender tower that would create a landmark profile on the city skyline. He won First Prize, and was awarded the 1994 Prize from the German Association of Architects.

He was not without his critics. The Four Seasons Hotel, close to the Brandenburg Gate in what was East Berlin, was thought by some not to be an enhancement of this historical district. His astonishing Triangle Building is situated in the middle of the complex of buildings in the Friedrichstadt district, which was bisected by the former "Checkpoint Charlie" dividing the two parts of Cold War Berlin.

Kleihues received several honours, including the German Order of Merit, first class, in 1988 and in the following year was elected honorary member of the American Institute of Architects.

David Childs

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