BÖHM 100: The Concrete Cathedral of Neviges

Frankfurt/Main | Exhibition | until 15.11.2020

The architect Gottfried Böhm is celebrating his 100th birthday on January 23, 2020. Among his bestknown works is the pilgrimage church dedicated to “Mary, Queen of Peace” in Neviges in North Rhine-Westphalia.


This mighty church in the town of Neviges, which lies between Wuppertal and Essen, is now around 50 years old. With seating for 800 and standing room for 2,200 more, it is the second biggest sacred building in the Cologne archdiocese, surpassed only by Cologne Cathedral, from which it takes its name “Mariendom”, or “Cathedral of the Virgin Mary”. Built of exposed concrete, the ensemble dates from Böhm’s brutalist period and was built between 1963 and 1968. In 1986 Gottfried Böhm became the first German architect to win the Pritzker Prize, the Nobel Prize of architecture.

Gottfried Böhm: Westansicht, Bleistiftzeichnung auf Transparentpapier, 9.5.1967, DAM 028-062-031


His sketches, as well as the legacy of his father Dominikus Böhm, form part of the DAM’s collection. Following on from the comprehensive exhibitions dedicated to both the Böhms in 2005 and 2006, the museum is now marking the centenary by supplementing this retrospective with a look forward – all the more fitting since the church in Neviges is currently being given a new roof covering that uses innovative textile-reinforced concrete technology.

The exhibition
For the first time in the DAM’s history, the front wall of the presentation room is being covered with floorto-ceiling photographs to create the illusion of an internal view. On display will be a collage of interior photos of the Neviges Mariendom. With numerous photos of the church’s construction and a number of Gottfried Böhm’s expressive sketches, this key work of 20th century religious architecture will be presented more extensively than ever before.

Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM), Foto: Moritz Bernoully
Ausstellungsansicht „BÖHM100: Der Beton-Dom von Neviges“ im Deutschen Architekturmuseum (DAM), Frankfurt am Main (18.1. – 15.11.2020)


The pilgrimage to Neviges
Pilgrims have been coming to Neviges since the late 17th century to pray to a small image of the Virgin Mary kept there by the resident Franciscan monks. When the pilgrimage first began in 1681, the region was predominantly Protestant, and the veneration of the Virgin Mary of Neviges stems from the time of the Counter-Reformation. After the First World War and post-1945 the number of pilgrims rose significantly, hence the small monastic church was no longer adequate to host them. The Franciscans developed plans for a new, enormous pilgrimage church that could hold 8,000 people and staged a competition in 1962-1963, to which there were 15 entries, to choose the architect.

Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM), Foto: Moritz Bernoully
Ausstellungsansicht „BÖHM100: Der Beton-Dom von Neviges“ im Deutschen Architekturmuseum (DAM), Frankfurt am Main (18.1. – 15.11.2020)


Competition and consecration in 1968
In the first round of the competition, Gottfried Böhm’s design was criticized for its expressive formal idiom, but in the second stage it triumphed. He was the only entrant to propose positioning the church as the final point on an uphill pilgrim’s way. The story goes that Archbishop Frings of Cologne, who was virtually blind, felt the model of the design with his fingers and gave it his approval on that basis. The ground-breaking ceremony took place in 1966 and two years later the monumental concrete church with its boldly folding roof was already towering over the small, slate-roofed gabled cottages of Neviges by a considerable margin.

The spatial impression of this complete artwork
Anyone who enters the church immediately feels like they are in a huge, dark cave. Then, even on dull days, they start to make out the extraordinarily vibrant red church windows, which Gottfried Böhm designed himself, along with the pews and all the details of the interior furnishings. Of particular note are the rose window and the snake window, which are symbolic of the Virgin Mary and the triumph over evil.

The refurbishment
For decades now, cracks in the reinforced concrete roof have repeatedly allowed water to penetrate the interior of the pilgrimage church. Now, a new, thin layer made of “textile-reinforced concrete” is being applied. For this, two layers of sprayed concrete with integrated carbon matting are laid over a base coat and a color-matched top layer applied, in some cases by hand using a trowel where the geometry of the 2,700-square-meter roof surface poses problems. Thanks to the multi-layered textile-reinforced concrete system, the cracks allowing the water in will be transformed into a finely distributed and thus harmless crack pattern. The innovative process was developed at the Institute for Building Research at RWTH Aachen University, with Peter Böhm in charge of artistic direction.

Foto: Inge und Arved von der Ropp / Irene und Sigurd Greven Stiftung, ca. 1968
Die skulpturalen Emporen kurz vor der Fertigstellung Gottfried Böhm: Innenraum der Wallfahrtskirche „Maria, Königin des Friedens“, Neviges, 1963–1968


The Böhm dynasty of architects
Gottfried Böhm’s father Dominikus (1880-1955) was one of the most important architects of expressionist church design. Gottfried Böhm was born on January 23, 1920 in Offenbach, where his father taught at the Werkkunstschule (now the Hochschule für Gestaltung). The first buildings completed after his architecture degree in Munich were designed by father and son together. In 1948 Gottfried Böhm married the architect Elisabeth Haggenmüller, who was also involved in most of the projects, although the architecture firm bore his name alone. Three of their four sons are also architects: Stephan, Peter and Paul. The film “The Böhms –Architecture of a Family” (2014), which is being screened as part of the extensive supporting program, brings together two generations of Böhms.

Böhm and Frankfurt
The exhibition does not explore in greater detail the links between the Böhm family and the city of Frankfurt/ Main, but for readers in the region of southern Hesse the following may be of interest for reporting purposes: Gottfried Böhm designed the Church of St. Ignatius in Frankfurt’s Westend (Gärtnerweg 60). He designed it in 1964, i.e., in the same year in which he was chosen as the architect for Neviges. The folded concrete roof is not the only feature common to both buildings –Böhm also included a rose window in the Frankfurt church too. On the edge of the Europaviertel district stands the headquarters of the former Deutsche Bundesbahn, which was designed by Gottfried Böhm’s son Stephan (1991-1993). The building is notable for ist prefabricated concrete façade but is soon to be replaced by a new Deutsche Bahn building at the main railway station, so its future is uncertain.

Foto: Christian Schaulin 2008
Gottfried Böhm


The protection of employees and visitors is our top priority and requires extensive measures. Protective screens are installed in the checkout area. The museum shop will remain open, and a few viewing copies of books and catalogues are available. Our café is open on Saturdays, Sundays and for events. Audio guides and the output of similar devices (tablets) will be dispensed with. Media stations can be used. Rules of conduct in the entrance area advise visitors* that a distance of at least 2m must be maintained – both to other visitors and to staff. Simple mouth-and-nose covers are obligatory in all museums in accordance with the regulations in public transport and retail trade, the sneezing label must be observed and hands must be washed regularly in museums as well. Acutely ill persons must refrain from a visit. A maximum of 250 people can visit the museum at the same time.

until November 15th 2020

Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM)
Schaumainkai 43 | 60596 Frankfurt am Main

Tue, Thu-Sun 10 am–6 pm, Wed 10 am–8 pm Uhr
Mon and 26.-30.10.2020 closed

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