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Hirsch Family Residence (1970)
Architect Biographies

Hirsch, Poldi

1926–1987

“All architecture and design should be authentic and original, not a copy.”
Recollection of daughter Dahlia
Hirsch

Poldi Rothenberg Hirsch was born in 1926 in Remscheid, Germany, and studied architecture in Switzerland. She immigrated to the US with her daughter and husband in 1953. Only by chance did they settle in Havre de Grace when touring Maryland for a place to start her husband’s medical practice. Havre de Grace turned out to be a great community to raise a family, but a more difficult locale to establish an architecture practice, especially one that followed the tenets of modernism. Poldi’s architectural training was heavily influenced by Le Corbusier with a strong commitment to uniting form and function. Her core belief was that buildings should be “built well and organized” and that their design should be original and not mimic past styles.

Her first project was to design the office building of her husband‘s medical practice. But other than the occasional house for friend or family member, it was difficult to find other architectural work, so she undertook the financing, design, and construction of numerous projects herself. She developed townhouse duplexes with 2 or 3 bedrooms units around 1,500 square feet each, built at minimal costs to serve starter families. Scattered around Havre de Grace, there are 17 such buildings in the same minimalist style: flat roof, simple box shape designed for constructability. Poldi took care that these were built well and would turn them over one-by-one so that she could keep the skilled laborers employed under her care.

By the mid-1960s, Poldi had opportunities to design much larger apartment complexes and office buildings. But her greatest work was her family residence, completed in 1970. The design included an office for her architectural practice as well as an examination room and office for her husband’s work. Meticulous thought was put in the design, from the overall form, to the materials, furniture, and landscape.

Poldi had a firm affirmation for living life and loving design. From fashion, to art, to music, she brought beauty to everything she touched. When Dr. Hirsch was asked what project he felt his wife would have liked to build most, his reply was “a new Jewish Community Center and Synagogue.” Poldi was a lifelong member of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist charity promoting women’s health and well-being. Poor health forced Poldi to scale back her architecture practice in 1980. She passed away in 1987 at 61, after a prolific career as an architect, planner, and architect/builder of a wide variety of building types, including homes for average citizens, multi-family apartment buildings, office buildings, custom residences, medical facilities, and civic planning studies. In Harford County, over 25 modern structures still stand as a testament to her professional perseverance.

Medical Arts Building (1960), 2nd story addition (1980)
Parke Terrace Apartments (1965)

Timeline

1926 – Born Poldi Rothenberg on March 24 to Malka and Isak Rottenberg in Remscheid, Germany

1926-1939 – Lives and completes early education in Germany

1939 – Family immigrates to Mandatory Palestine

1942 – Attends school in Tel Aviv; Father encourages her to consider architecture as a profession

1943 – Meets Gunther Hirsch in Tel Aviv

1946 – Graduates from Hebrew Gymnasium Herzlia, Tel Aviv

1947-1948 – Attends Hebrew Technical College, Haifa, Mandatory Palestine; Completes two years of a three year Architecture program

1948 – Moves to Geneva, Switzerland to join Gunther at medical school; Poldi and Gunther marry

1947-1949 – Attends Ecole d’Architecture, Geneva, Switzerland; Finds advancing difficult because Parisian studio professor only shows up for final critiques

1949-1953 – Attends Uni-Ecole Polytechnique, Lausanne, Switzerland; Receives Diplome d’Architet

1951 – Daughter Dahlia born in Geneva, Switzerland

1953 – Licensed to practice architecture in Switzerland; Immigrates with family to Sewickley, PA, where she works for H.Bradley-Patterson & Burgner Architects while Gunther is in residency at a hospital in Pittsburgh, PA

1955 – Daughter Edna born in Sewickley, PA; Family relocates to Havre de Grace, MD; Gunther begins medical practice; Poldi begins architectural practice, eventually forming Poldi Hirsch, AIA and Associates

1960 – Daughter Elaine born; Projects: Medical Arts Building, 131 S. Union Ave; Architect/Builder Residence, 117 Francis St, Havre de Grace

1961 – Projects: Rothenberg Residence, Giles St, Havre de Grace; Architect/Builder Houses, 819, 732, & 729 Tydings Rd, Havre de Grace

1962 – Granted reciprocal license to practice Architecture in Maryland

1962-1963 – Project: Architect/Builder Townhouse Duplex, 715-719 Lewis St,                        Havre de Grace; 715 serves as their residence

1963 –  Starts the annual “Million Dollar Mile” Art Show with husband

1964 – Becomes a member of AIA Baltimore Chapter; Project: Architect/Builder House, 736 Tydings Rd, Havre de Grace

1965 – Projects: Parke Apartments, S. Parke & Plater Sts, Aberdeen; 120 unit low rent apartments with Tatar and Kelly; Gast Residence, Davis Dr, Havre de Grace

1966 – Projects: Architect/Builder Townhouse Duplex, 651-653 Alliance St, Havre de Grace; Surgical Clinic, 601 S. Union Ave, Havre de Grace

1967 – Projects: Architect/Builder Townhouse Duplexes, 902-904 & 906-908 Chesapeake Dr, Havre de Grace; Apt Bldg, 710 Lewis St, Havre de Grace

1968 – Projects: Architect/Builder Townhouse Duplex, 714-716 Chesapeake Dr, Havre de Grace; Sommer Residence, Lafayette St, Havre de Grace; Harford County Governmental Center Study with Tatar and Kelly Architects

1969 – Projects: Architect/Builder Townhouse Duplex, 932-934 Chesapeake Dr, Havre de Grace; Housing development on Giles St, Havre de Grace

1970 – Projects: Hirsch Family Residence, Giles St, Havre De Grace; Huber Corp. Office Addition, 907 Revolution St, Havre de Grace (c.1970s)

1973 – Hirsch Residence featured in March 1 Bel Air Aegis article “Home Ideas Tour Features Hirsch Home” & Dec 16 Baltimore Sun article “Architect Designs Her Own House”

1974 – Project: Witt Residence, Havre De Grace; Featured in Oct 27 Baltimore Sun article “Modern Mansard in Split Cedar”

1975 – Proposal: Harford County Courthouse, Bel Air

1976 – Resigns from AIA Baltimore Chapter (at the time the only woman corporate member)

1979 –  First learns of cancer diagnosis

1980 – Project: Second Floor Addition to Medical Arts Center, Havre de Grace

1980 – Scales back architecture practice due to ill health

1984 – Proposal: Havre de Grace Public Library

1987 – Passes away at home on July 20 in Havre de Grace at the age of 61

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