Heinz Bienefeld was a German architect who used brick both to give expression to his volumes and to construct his details. His work is marked by the relationship between form and surface through the use of this material.
The birth of a new brick architect
Heinz Bienefeld (1926-1995) was a German architect who built most of his work in the Köln area in Germany. After a study trip to the United States, he worked for Gottfried Böhm from 1955 to 1958. He had previously studied and worked with his father (the renowned Dominikus Böhm), and both had an important influence on the young architect. Indeed, the Böhm family were great church builders in the first half of the 20th century. They completely renewed the usual style of sacred architecture of the time, by using the vocabulary of the Backsteinexpressionismus or brick expressionist architecture. This brick expressionism is characterized by the lively expressiveness of its facades, achieved simply by the arrangement and layout of bricks. This helped to animate large, monotonous and empty walls.
From 1958 to 1963, Heinz Bienefeld worked in Emil Steffan’s construction workshop. Another step in his young career that influenced the architect’s work. Steffan was also a great church builder, very attached to the idea of using a material defined as appropriate for the building. His work was thought in a critical way, looking at the few possibilities offered by traditional architecture. With Steffan, Bienefeld experienced that the material predominates over the form, which makes it possible to draw a sober, even austere architecture full of expression.
The brick as the starting point of the project
In 1963, Heinz Bienefeld became an independent architect. He put his few years of experience to good use and specialized in the design of religious buildings and large houses. His architectural production is largely inspired by the classical tradition of Italian architecture coupled with the contemporary modernism notably found in Scarpa. This classical and sometimes even medieval influence was meticulously decanted to form a stripped down architecture, where brick is constantly used as both a structural and ornamental material. Brick constructs space just as it covers the surface. Beyond that, the equilibrium of the materials, the fabrication of details, the similar construction subjects, the attention paid to proportions and scale to design the spaces define his work.
St Bonifatius brickwork
Jeff Stein House, 1976
This use of brick as a surface and space material is remarkable in a 1976 project, the Jeff Stein House in Wesseling. The brick is staged outside the house in an elliptical atrium that marks the transition between the house and the garden. This outdoor vernacular cloister follows an organic form while being built entirely of brick, a standardized rectangular material. The ground surface is paved like a Roman stone parterre. The rounded walls, built with two different brick patterns, outline the central space. The use of brick therefore constructs an exterior space both in form and surface. The garden is accessible after a few steps, crossing a small pavilion that opens the ellipse. This garden planted in a row seems in the end more austere than the spatial impression given by the simple shape of the patio.
St Willibrord Church, 1973
In the St Willibrord Church project, the brick is once again used to draw the volume(s). The complex shape and the sloping plot are interrupted by the brick cladding which seems to free itself from natural and programmatic constraints. Heinz Bienefeld combines the two aspects he considered essential in architecture, the choice of the correct proportion and the effect of the wall surface on the retina. In other words, a form of physical comfort reinforced by visual and aesthetic comfort. The general perception of this building is different from the one we can have when looking at it in detail. The volume is drawn by the massiveness of the brick, the surface is punctuated by a form of destandardisation of the brick module, one being in resonance with the other. But in both cases the use of brick serves a spatial and functional purpose that can be found in many of the architect’s projects.
Brick is at the heart of Bienefeld’s work. By constantly associating it as a material drawing space and surface, he followed an unprecedented form of brick expressionism. His architectural influences and convictions have enabled him to materialize his search for the substantively essential.