Reiner Nagel in an interview
The Bundesstiftung Baukultur

Reiner Nagel, chairman of the Bundesstiftung Baukultur
Reiner Nagel, chairman of the Bundesstiftung Baukultur | Photo: Till Budde

The Bundesstiftung Baukultur commenced operations in Potsdam in 2007. Among its core tasks are communicating quality planning and construction to the public and presenting German building culture internationally. The concept building culture refers not only to the aesthetic dimension of the built environment, but equally to its social, ecological and economic aspects. spoke with Reiner Nagel, the foundation’s board chairman.

The Bundesstiftung Baukultur is a comparatively young foundation. Next year you will be celebrating your tenth anniversary. Were there groundbreaking initiatives already in the run-up?

The Bundesstiftung Baukultur was founded as an institution in November 2006 by the Deutscher Bundestag and Bundesrat, and provided with financial resources for its operations. It was preceded by a series of activities, in particular by the German architectural profession, which launched a broad-based and varied discussion on the design of the built environment. Decisive for the founding of the Stiftung, in my view, were the reports on building culture that Gert Kähler worked out as a member of the Initiative Architektur und Baukultur. In 2001 the first status report Baukultur in Deutschland was published, then the update co-authored with Hannes und Rotraut Weeber that was issued in 2005 under the title Baukultur!. If these reports on building culture, with their great conciseness, had not been available, the Bundesstiftung perhaps might not have been founded, despite all initiatives, despite all political support. It was crucial that this constitutive act be accompanied by a status report as a technical document, to make clear what is at issue. For this reason it is also anchored in law and in our bylaws that the Stiftung is required to present bi-annual reports on the state of building culture in Germany. Today this is both a duty and a privilege for the foundation.

What was the specific reason, if there was one, for launching a foundation for building culture ten years ago?

I believe that the initiators originally intended to frame the issue of the banality of planning and building in Germany as a problem and also as a scandal. They wanted to set impulses in motion and, of course, make use of the opportunity to address responsible parties about improving quality in construction. The psychological stress from the loss of culture in our society was enormous. We are still seeing these problems, not just in architecture, and also observe that our society does not necessarily take note of this. But conversely, a huge potential for improvement exists that policy-makers can make their own, to realise use values for our society in the design of public spaces, architecture, infrastructure, urban planning and development and the design and planning of open spaces, at comparatively minor expense and effort. As an independent institution, the goal of promoting quality planning and building, linking actors and overcoming deficits is and remains the guiding principle of the Bundesstiftung Baukultur.

How is policy-making concretely included in the Bundesstiftung’s work?

The Stiftung is independent, but not free-floating. It also works directly linked with policy-makers through its board of trustees. The Bundesstiftung is, of course, a state institution governed by public law. Its technical point of contact is the BMUB (Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz, Bau und Reaktorsicherheit/ Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety), as is also laid down in the law. For this purpose, in addition to accredited experts, the board of trustees also includes a political delegation in which all parties are represented, from the members of the Bundestag. We conceive our task in such a way that we provide policy-makers with guidelines and deliver ideas that are of relevance to our society. In the meetings of the board of trustees we then have the opportunity to directly address these topics.

  • Baukulturbericht 2014/15 Foto: Bundesstiftung Baukultur
    Baukulturbericht 2014/15
  • Ettersburger Gespräch, Schloss Ettersburg, September 2015 Foto: Axel Clemens
    Ettersburger Gespräch, Schloss Ettersburg, September 2015
  • Stiftungssitz der Bundesstiftung Baukultur in Potsdam Foto: Till Budde
    Stiftungssitz der Bundesstiftung Baukultur in Potsdam
  • Baukulturwerkstatt Vitale Gemeinden in Kassel, April 2015 Foto: Till Budde
    Baukulturwerkstatt Vitale Gemeinden in Kassel, April 2015
  • Baukulturwerkstatt Infrastruktur und Landschaft in Regensburg, Juli 2015 Foto: Till Budde
    Baukulturwerkstatt Infrastruktur und Landschaft in Regensburg, Juli 2015
  • Baukulturwerkstatt Infrastruktur und Landschaft in Regensburg, Juli 2015 Foto: Till Budde
    Baukulturwerkstatt Infrastruktur und Landschaft in Regensburg, Juli 2015
  • Baukulturwerkstatt Planungskultur und Prozessqualität in Frankfurt a.M., September 2015 Foto: Till Budde
    Baukulturwerkstatt Planungskultur und Prozessqualität in Frankfurt a.M., September 2015

And what is the role of the Förderverein Baukultur e.V.?

The Förderverein was first of all the parent body of the foundation. The Initiative Architektur und Baukultur and also others are represented in the Förderverein and have worked to establish the entire movement on a broader basis. With the founding of the Stiftung, the Förderverein has successfully fulfilled its task and today supports the Bundesstiftung Baukultur and its issues through its moral support and its membership fees. What is crucial is the willingness of the members to contribute as “ambassadors of building culture” as well.

Since taking office, you have advocated for building culture and for membership in the Förderverein at numerous events. Can in fact anyone become a member?

Yes, anyone with an interest in building culture is welcome. At this time we have 930 members, and trending towards growth. This is, of course comparatively few, compared with the Mieterbund (Tenants’ Association) with three million members, or the ADAC (German automobile association) with 19 million members.

The Bundesstiftung is addressing the public on a nation-wide basis with a series of formats, to advocate for building culture. I’m thinking here of the building culture workshops, building culture weeks, the building culture salon, and also of the Ettersburger Gespräch/ Ettersburg Colloquy with its policy document on greater fairness in building. What is the significance of this discussion forum?

Das Ettersburger Gespräch arose from an initiative on the part of the business sector and the Förderverein, and has established itself as a forum in which the construction industry, and also the housing and real-estate sectors and all professional groups involved in architecture can engage in constructive discussion, network with each other and arrive at results. The policy document on “Participants – Fairness – Building Culture/ Beteiligte – Fairness – Baukultur” that was worked out at the last meeting is concretely addressed to all involved in real-time planning and construction. How must we cooperate better with each other in the future, where is there potential for development, how, for instance, can we make use of the crucial phase before the planning begins, to qualify projects? The Ettersburger Gespräch is a strategic building block. We also wish to find allies among decision-makers to speak publically about building culture, and for this reason we go to trade fairs such as Expo Real or Messe Bau.

What are your goals for the next years?

In our “Report on Building Culture 2014/15,” which was submitted to the Federal Cabinet and the Parliament as a status report on building culture in Germany, we have formulated recommendations for policy-makers and the public. We are continuing this work. The next “Building Culture Report” is already in preparation and will be presented to Parliament next year. In addition to the thematic complex of major urban centres, it focuses primarily on the deficits and potentials of small and medium-sized cities and rural areas. We want to have a voice in the issue of building affordable housing, so that design issues are given greater attention and are improved. The same holds for infrastructure and public space. For us to be able to act more effectively, the Stiftung must grow. Then we can also implement the commissions we have already been given for research, communication, moderation and consultation, or for participation in planning and construction processes at the federal level.

Architect and urban planner Reiner Nagel has served as board chairman of the Bundesstiftung Baukultur since May 2013. In Hamburg, he served among other things as co-director of HafenCity Hamburg GmbH. As division head in the Senate Administration for Urban Development Berlin, he has served in the departments of urban development, and urban and open-space planning since 2005. Reiner Nagel is a lecturer at the TU Berlin in urban design, and is also a member of the advisory body Kuratorium Nationale Stadtentwicklungspolitik and of the Bund Deutscher Architekten.