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Meinhard von Gerkan: “We managed to come up with a design which has stood the test of time.”

Walter Knoll CEO Markus Benz in a talk with Meinhard von Gerkan  © gmp Architekten von Gerkan, Marg und Partner, Hamburg, Germany
Walter Knoll CEO Markus Benz in a talk with Meinhard von Gerkan
© gmp Architekten von Gerkan, Marg und Partner, Hamburg, Germany

Meinhard von Gerkan is one of the most acclaimed German architects worldwide. Airports, stations, trade fair centres, cultural centres, stadia: von Gerkan realises iconic buildings with his team of architects at »gmp Architekten von Gerkan, Marg und Partner«, an architectural partnership that will be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year. The furnishing of Berlin’s Tegel Airport in 1975 marked the start of the collaboration with Walter Knoll. Since then, there have been a number of successful joint projects all over the world. In the interview Meinhard von Gerkan takls about his work and long-standing partnership with Walter Knoll.

Mr von Gerkan, how would you define good architecture and how do you see the role of an architect today?
Good architecture is architecture that is appreciated the same way as it was when it was created 20, 30, 40 or even more years ago. Or – something I find more valuable – is appreciated even more now than it was originally. Architects have to be able to distinguish between what is signifi cant and what is trivial in the environment of human existence and concentrate on the significant, on what corresponds to the users’ requirements and what gives them pleasure.

Architecture and interior design go hand in hand to form a whole. What role does the latter play in your architectural designs?
Architecture and interior design don’t just go hand in hand to form a whole, but are a unity of designed environment. The cultural development of the human race over thousands of years proves exactly that. This is why interior design plays just as integral a role for us as the other areas of designing and building. Inside and outside cannot be thought about in isolation, separately from one another.

Inspired by functionalism and the resoluteness of Scandinavian design: The Berlin Chair. © Walter Knoll
Inspired by functionalism and the resoluteness of Scandinavian design: The Berlin Chair.
© Walter Knoll

The companies gmp and Walter Knoll have a long history of working together. How did the first collaboration on Berlin’s Tegel Airport in 1975 come about?
That is a long, long story that is beginning to become legendary. In 1965, Volkwin Marg and I won an international competition to design an incredible project – Tegel Airport. We had just completed our studies and were absolute nobodies in the world of architecture. At the time we were not only given the contract to design the building itself, but also to take care of the entire interior design, furnishings and technical equipment. And that is how the Berlin Chair came into being. We were looking for seating for the Lufthansa Lounge in the airport that we wanted to be classy and have an aura of exclusivity. So the design had to be extremely functional but also aesthetic and elegant. We needed someone to make it and we were particularly on the lookout for a company with the expertise to translate our demands and requirements into furniture. And that’s how we got started with Walter Knoll. I designed the Berlin Chair, but how it could be produced in the quality we were looking for, which methods could be used, those were the challenges of the transposition to manufacture.

The Berlin Chair is seen as something of a classic . . .
The chair was very well received at the time and, 30 years later, it has gained incredibly in terms of its appreciation value. Today, you will see it being sold as an antiquarian rarity at auctions in New York. That proves that we managed to come up with a design which has stood the test of time and this in turn makes us optimistic that the reissued chair can look forward to a promising future.

Further information:
www.walterknoll.de
www.gmp-architekten.com