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Bartning, Ottolocked

(b Karlsruhe, April 12, 1883; d Darmstadt, Feb 20, 1959).
  • Kathleen James-Chakraborty

German architect and writer. Bartning studied at the Technische Hochschule in Karlsruhe and at the Technische Hochschule and the University in Berlin. In 1905 he established a practice in Berlin. By 1918 he had received c. 50 commissions, but he only began to publish his work after World War I. The upheavals of the period prompted him to propose the spatial and stylistic reorganization of German Protestant church building as a means of restoring social harmony. His book, On New Church Buildings, appeared in 1919 and spurred a revolution in German sacred architecture. During the 1920s Bartning joined the Novembergruppe, the Arbeitsrat für Kunst, and Der Ring, the principal German avant-garde artistic and architectural groups. His most interesting contribution to the brief period of German Expressionism was the Sternkirche project (1922). The centralized church is surmounted by a roof of layered concrete shells that are supported by a thicket of columns, intended as a reinterpretation of Gothic construction.

Bartning was slow to build along the lines of his most experimental projects but quickly won recognition for his ideas. In 1924 he was awarded an honorary doctorate of theology by Albertus University in Königsberg. The following year he was named director of the Staatlichen Bauhochschule in Weimar, the school founded after the Bauhaus moved from Weimar to Dessau. In 1930 he was replaced by Paul Schultze-Naumberg, who was appointed by Wilhelm Frick, a Nazi Party member and Thuringia’s Minister of the Interior and of Education. In terms of his building activity, he was particularly known for the Steel Church, erected in 1928 on the fairgrounds of the Presse Exhibition in Cologne. It represents an early attempt to design a religious structure according to the theories of industrialized construction espoused by early Modernist architects. In plan the church is a parabola fronted by twin towers. It is raised 6 m off the ground on a platform housing the parish hall and vestry room. The roof and towers are sheathed in copper panels. Stained-glass windows are suspended from the steel skeleton of the parabola, a shape Bartning compared to the outstretched arms of a preacher. He hoped that uniting the organ loft, nave, and chancel in a single space would bind the congregation into a community. The publication of the design abroad made it a landmark in the dissemination of avant-garde German architecture. Bartning’s Modernist credentials were enhanced by his participation in the design of the Siemensstadt Siedlung in Berlin (1929–31) in collaboration with other prominent members of Der Ring, including Walter Gropius, Hugo Häring, and Hans Scharoun.

Bartning’s other significant and well-recognized churches of the period were the Resurrection (Auferstehung) Church in Essen of 1929 and the Gustav Adolf Church in Berlin’s Charlottenburg neighbourhood, completed in 1934. Both combined concrete structure with brick and glass infill. The Auferstehung has an unusual centralized plan; the much larger Gustav Adolf Church has a pie-shaped nave that focused attention on the chancel, which culminated externally in a tall spire. Both buildings, like the Stahlkirche, featured prominently for decades in foreign treatises on modern sacred architecture.

Bartning was a leader in post-war West German architecture. Immediately after World War II he built more than 90 emergency prefabricated churches across East and West Germany. The walls were constructed of stone or brick, often scavenged from the rubble left by bombings, and roofs were assembled from precut timbers. They were designed on four basic plans, and Bartning claimed that they could be erected in about three weeks.

From 1950 until his death he served as president of the Bund Deutschen Architekten, the country’s leading professional association. Bartning led the discussion during the second and third Darmstädter Gespräche, held in 1951 and 1952, which were among the most influential post-war conferences on contemporary architecture. The philosopher Martin Heidegger delivered his famous lecture ‘Building, Dwelling, Thinking’ at the 1951 meeting.


  • Vom neuen Kirchenbau (Berlin, 1919)
  • Die Stahl Kirche (New York, 1930)
  • Die 48 Notkirchen in Deutschland (Heidelberg, 1949)
  • Erde, Geliebte (Hamburg, 1958)


  • H. Mayer: Der Baumeister Otto Bartning und die Wiederentdeckung des Raumes (Heidelberg, 1951)
  • J. Bredow and H. Lurch: Materialien zum Werk des Architekten, Otto Bartning (Darmstadt, 1983)
  • D. Nicholaisen: Das andere Bauhaus: Otto Bartning und die Staatliche Bauhochschule Weimar, 1926–1930 (Berlin, 1996)
  • K. James-Chakraborty: German Architecture for a Mass Audience (London, 2000)
  • M. Frings, ed.: Die Sternkirche von Otto Bartning: Analyse, Visualisierung, Simulation (Weimar, 2002)
  • K. Berkemann, ed.: ‘Baukunst von Morgen!’ Otto Bartning, 1953: Hamburgs Kirchen der Nachkriegszeit (Munich, 2007)
  • M. A. Torgerson: An Architecture of Immanence: Architecture for Worship and Ministry Today (Grand Rapids, MI, 2007)