saai | Archive for Architecture and Engineering

Digital Collection Egon Eiermann

Matthäuskirche (Church of St. Matthew)
1951-1956

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Matthäuskirche (Church of St. Matthew)

"Yesterday the church shone in artificial light at night for the first time. The impression, especially from the mountains, defies description. From the inside out, the glass has an entirely new effect. Yesterday evening a veritable pilgrimage was set in motion to marvel at the miracle." That was how Egon Eiermann described his first, newly completed church in May 1953, in words heavy with emotion, in a letter to Hans Theo Baumann, the Schopfheim glass painter and industrial designer who designed the glass blocks for the church.

At the initial planning stage the intention was still to provide lighting for the church by means of ordinary glass windows, but Eiermann developed the idea of including glass in small blocks, and alternating them with full blocks. Only at the final planning stage did the idea of filling the church's wall entirely with glass blocks take shape. Over 2,000 colored blocks of cast glass in shades of red, blue, yellow, and green, and in either full color or mosaic pattern were manufactured for the Matthäuskirche. The little glass disks are set into square blocks that fill out the walls of the church. A few white stones arranged like tendrils around the supports interrupt the regular pattern of red stones. The stones bear special testimony to Pforzheim's wartime fate. They were made from ground rubble from the ruins of the town, which was almost totally destroyed on February 23, 1945.

The new method of construction did not only find supporters. Initially, Eiermann himself was not sure of the effect. Once the shaped blocks were inserted, the holes in them looked like little black spots when backlit. '"Space is gawping at me through a thousand eyes,' Eiermann cried in despair," recalls his collaborator Helmut Striffler. Yet the first glass was hardly in place when the fascinating light effect became clear. The interior was bathed in a play of colored light that changed constantly, depending on the brightness of the light and the position of the sun.

Along with the light blocks, the church's construction, the unconcealed binders of the reinforced concrete skeleton structure and what were then still raw concrete surfaces created a stir. Eiermann used modern construction materials with utmost consistency in the interior design and fittings, too: whether in the concrete canopy suspended over the altar, or in the design of the structures supporting the altar, the cross, and the font, which consist of simple tubular steel rods arranged crosswise. The tubular steel construction of the altar in particular was to make a name for itself as "Eiermann's workbench."

In later work, Eiermann was to take up the idea of church walls lit by glass blocks again. He did so in the Evangelische Stadtkirche project for Karlsruhe and in his most famous work, the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche in Berlin, for which he designed a diaphanous double wall. The interior fittings in Berlin, especially those of the chapel, are inconceivable without the Pforzheim precursor.

The Matthäuskirche therefore plays an important role in Eiermann's work. lt was there that he arrived at a canon of form for his church buildings. His work consisted, as he himself wrote, of "developing certain experiences and knowledge that I have gained in the course of my work into a standard that is given the status of general validity, and of taking it to a perfection that rules out experiments."

Heidi Fischer

"Egon Eiermann 1904-1970. Architect and Designer", Ed. Annemarie Jaeggi, Hatje Cantz: Ostfildern-Ruit, 2004, p. 157

Project-specific information

Project Matthäuskirche (Church of St. Matthew)
Persons involved
  • Egon Eiermann und Robert Hilgers, Architektur
Project period 1951-1956

Object-specific information

Typology Sakralbau, religious buildings

Site-specific information

Country Deutschland
City Pforzheim