“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. Her 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. Hirsch 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, Hirsch 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.
Hirsch 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.” Hirsch was a lifelong member of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist charity promoting women’s health and well-being. Poor health forced her 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.