Sacred Space and Desire: The Church Architect Dominikus Böhm At the Museum of Applied Art, Cologne, until 11 December
To mark the 50th anniversary of the death of church architect Dominikus Böhm (1880-1955), the Deutsches Architektur Museum in Frankfurt mounted this exhibition. It is now in Cologne, where Böhm lived and worked, eventually with his Pritzker Prize-winning architect son Gottfried, who continues to practise from his father's original house.
With a simple exhibition layout of cranked wall panels, Böhm's large, atmospheric charcoal drawings and original photographs by Hugo Schmölz are a visual feast, further enhanced by the central placing of superb large-scale wood models of Böhm's churches.
Made by students at Karlsruhe University, the models' natural colour complements that of the aged tracing-paper drawings.
In a telling juxtaposition, one carefully set-up perspective drawing is paired with Böhm's charcoal tracing overlay, which converts the interior into openness, mystery, lightness and darkness.
The panels chart the achievements and problems of Böhm's career. He was a devout Catholic, who wanted his churches to have monumentality and atmosphere, which he created by his masterful use of natural light. His churches were inspired by liturgical reform and the relationship of congregation and priest during the Mass, and his early projects clearly anticipated future Vatican directives.
Böhm's professional life was fraught with problems, especially as a result of the Nazis' attitude to Modern architecture. His church at Neu-Ulm (1921-27) was considered by the Nazi press to be 'Bolshevist anal art' better suited to Morocco or Palestine.
His most famous church, St Engelbert in Cologne-Riehl (1930-32) - a circle in plan and with parabolic arches - was deemed 'outlandish and oriental' by the Cologne diocese. His church at Essen attempted to regain the trust of the diocese by having an exterior with a Romanesque feel and a Modernist interior, but it failed.
With a loan to build his own Modernist white house with pitched roof, Böhm's financial situation was worrying. Wary of the Nazis, he retreated to his summer house, surviving the war on small jobs and doing no more in Cologne until the late 1940s, when he again became involved with church building and reconstruction.
This exhibition lacks plans, sections and construction details so we see nothing about the sprayed concrete vaults that graced many of Böhm's interiors or how he made walls appear to span the length of a nave without support. But, compared with today's lifeless computer-drawn perspectives, Böhm's charcoal studies of form, mass, space and light are a joy. Many of the drawings are reproduced in the exhibition catalogue, which is only printed in German but gives locations of Böhm's buildings.
And as many of them are in the Cologne area, with its excellent public transport, it is very easy to experience the reality of Böhm's interiors.
Peter Bareham is an architect based in Sussex