Berlin and Beyond 2015: Concrete Love-The Böhm Family

Ponderous, intimate, and epic in its illustration of an extremely design-oriented family, Die Böhms: Architektur einer Familie is unique in scope and tone from other architect/family architect documentaries (My Architect, Eames). Central to the documentary is Cologne-based Gottfried Böhm, the only German to be awarded the Pritzker Prize, whose father and grandfather were also architects. His wife Elisabeth Böhm, also an architect and one of his collaborators, had with him four sons, three of whom are architects (Stephan, Peter and Paul). Where does the seemingly genetic predisposition in the family for design come from? The film gently untangles the web of academic discipline, dynastic continuity and familial competition that engenders their practice and work. There is also a sense that the family designs and builds as a way of expressing certain patriotic values of culture, civic life, and faith: Böhm père was greatly influenced by the destruction of many key German buildings during the wars and Böhm mere instilled in her sons the value of architecture in cementing social relations. The stately pace of the documentary serves to illustrate the longevity and productivity of the family as well as their gratitude for having lived for so long, having their legacy stamped nationally and internationally, and being blessed with life and creativity, even in the throes of existential crises. The film also gives ample time for the airing of difficulties of both the personal and architectural kind: design competitions, working in China, World War II, Elisabeth’s stalled career, and firms teetering on bankruptcy. But the watchword here is legacy. Gottfried Böhm, a man of faith, worked on numerous churches, city halls, and other public buildings which for him represented not just his values but a return to civic and democratic life after the wars. Elisabeth’s legacy lies in her formidable intellect – a muse and critic to her husband and an intellectual and moral mentor to her sons, who felt her frustration at not leading a more public life. Then there is also the legacy of architecture, of history, and of generational difference, all of which provide fuel for each architect’s singular vision and keep the home fires burning (even the family’s long-time landscaper is a former architect).

Die Böhms: Architecktur einer Familie, dir. Maurizius Staerkle Drux, 85 min. Lichtblick Film, 2014. In German. Part of the 2015 Berlin and Beyond Film Festival, presented by the San Francisco’s Goethe Institut.