Meinhard von Gerkan: Water means quality of life

Meinhard von Gerkan is the founding partner of the German architectural firm gmp — von Gerkan, Marg and Partners. At the present time, gmp is one of the largest firms of architects in Germany and is engaged in ambitious and iconic projects all over the world.

Meinhard von Gerkan: Water means quality of life

Whatever its scale, the architecture created by Meinhard von Gerkan and his firm stands out for its functionality and natural simplicity combined with the use of extremely bold structural and technological solutions.

Your firm has designed many projects that are either situated beside water or incorporate it. Your own house and the principal office of gmp in Hamburg are on the bank of the Elbe and face the river. Is this just a series of coincidences or is dialogue with water a deliberate choice on your part?

No, this is no coincidence, of course. For life I need a place that has a certain identity: it must be either by the water’s edge or close to mountains. Personally, I find everything else rather uninteresting.

How would you explain this?

Water possesses something that makes us free. It liberates the human soul from compulsion, from the constant need to use everything and to make money in everything we do. Water can also, of course, be used as a means of making money, but it nevertheless always remains an invariable and prevailing element that determines the character of the place through which it flows. Water means constant movement and change; it is not static. It always imparts a special character to a place.

From the windows of my office I can see the river the whole time. I observe two suns — one in the sky, the other in the water. Sun reflected in water shines more brightly. In addition to my house on Elbchaussee in Hamburg, I have another on the coast of the Baltic Sea, 20 metres from the water’s edge. Water is a conscious choice that I’ve made.

Your projects include buildings built beside the water and buildings that contain water. The latter are mainly structures for watersports and include a special and unique instance — a temple of water, the Liquidrom in Berlin. How did this building come about?

The idea for it was not mine. I merely fleshed out the concept as an architect. This is a pool with warm salt water, above which there is a spreading dome. When you enter, you find complete

silence. But then when you get down beneath the surface of the water, you hear music. But this is a completely different kind of ‘hearing’ — you hear it not with your ears, but with your whole body. And the music comes across in a completely different way. It’s a unique experience.

Century Lotus Sports Park. Foshan, China. 2006Century Lotus Sports Park. Foshan, China. 2006 © Christian Gahl

Hanoi Museum, Vietnam. 2010. View from the artificial reservoirHanoi Museum, Vietnam. 2010. View from the artificial reservoir © Marcus Bredt

Main images © Timmo Schreiber, Christian Gahl