02 | 2020

Interview with Reiner Nagel

„Spirit and measure, meaning and form“

Reiner Nagel, the Chairman of the Federal Foundation of Baukultur, is convinced that sustainability in the construction sector is very important for society. In a talk with Torsten Meise, the Editor in Chief of concepts, Nagel, an architect and an urban planner, calls for the use of digital technologies, new planning processes, and a greater commitment to top­-quality design.

conceptsMr. Nagel, what does a foundation devoted to Baukultur—architectural culture—actually do? It sounds a bit like the preservation of historical monuments.

Reiner NagelMany people do link the concept of Baukultur exclusively with aesthetic aspects, old buildings, and the preservation of historical monuments. Of course that’s included, but it’s only one part of our work. In general, you can say that we want to improve the quality of the built environment. To do this, we look at the entire planning and construction phase, including technologies and planning processes. The foundation’s goal is to address the quality of planning and construction in Germany, bring together the various players, and gather support. This is also very relevant to Germany’s standing as a business location, because planning and implementing top-quality structural engineering is still one of our strong points.

conceptsIs sustainability also an aspect of architectural culture?

Reiner NagelYes, it certainly is. Architectural culture is the sum total of the work people do to actively shape their environment. That applies to all built spaces, including cultural landscapes. As a result, we definitely regard Baukultur as a synonym for sustainability. But it includes more than just environmental aspects—its definition is broader. Sustainability in the sense of architectural culture also includes the resulting man-made spaces and the process of creating them. In other words, how do we get there?

conceptsSo you’re working rather with a holistic concept of sustainability?

Reiner NagelWe stand for a systemic approach. To give you just one example, a high-bay warehouse built in the open countryside for a major mail-order company can certainly be planned, built, and certified as a sustainable building. Nonetheless, as a looming monolith it can also be a blot on the landscape. It also won’t be sustainable with regard to the preservation of our urban structures and the shopping opportunities they offer.

conceptsHow important for society is sustainability in the area of planning and construction? After all, construction activities account for about ten percent of Germany’s gross domestic product, or around 370 billion euros.

Reiner NagelIf you also include the real estate sector, the total volume increases to 540 billion euros. In Germany alone, we’ve got four million players in the construction sector, ranging from planners to developers and the construction materials and construction industries. This sector is about five times as big as the automotive industry.

conceptsWhich is far more visible to the public.

Reiner NagelThat’s right. Because the structure of the construction industry is much more differentiated, it doesn’t attract nearly as much public attention as the big automotive groups. I can also cite another figure: 84 percent of our national wealth consists of real estate. A significant proportion of pension funds and stocks is also tied up in real estate values. Architectural culture, as well as sustainability in this area, is therefore important for all of us and can have a huge societal effect.

conceptsDo we need to rely even more on sustainable certification systems?

Reiner NagelIn the first place, certifications depict calculations of the environmental balance sheet. However, we shouldn’t merely tick off checklists. We also have to create beautiful and emotionally convincing buildings. Spirit and measure, meaning and form have to come together. Otherwise we’ll end up in a state of architectural poverty. Design quality plays an important role. For example, the DGNB (German Sustainable Building Council) has developed an award for buildings that have an outstanding design, the Diamond for Design and Architectural Culture.

conceptsCan, or should, the digitalization of the construction industry also become a driver of sustainability?

Reiner NagelDigitalization can promote sustainability in the best sense of the word, and we urgently need to make it compatible with architectural culture. Digitalization has many faces; it can make low-tech buildings possible, optimize processes, and make it easier to consider life cycles. For example, we can more effectively implement cradle-to-cradle concepts—an approach to a comprehensive and systematic circular economy—or obtain information about the CO2-related consequences of the construction. As a result, with regard to the optimization of energy use, we can think more in terms of CO2-neutrality rather than just heat coefficients. Finally, digitalization is also an opportunity to technically optimize buildings in ways that can conserve construction materials or improve the interaction of construction processes and materials.

conceptsIn order to accomplish that, do we also need different planning models that bring everyone involved together earlier on in order to coordinate the goals of a project and implement it more effectively?

Reiner NagelAbsolutely. For example, thanks to Building Information Modeling (BIM) we can already see at an early stage what a finished building will look like. Previously, this was only possible quite late in the planning process—and then you might suddenly see a fairly bulky bridge. Now we can avoid such scenarios. In the digitalized process we can create a simulation at the push of a button and all of the players, even the non-professionals, can discuss it. Digitalization will also change the system of separating the planning from the implementation, which currently prevails among architects and engineers. We will have to develop different compliance rules in this area. We are currently working on a Code of Architectural Culture for the real estate sector, one that focuses on social responsibility. This discussion has to be held now, because in this field the facts on the ground are changing fast.

An architect and urban planner, Nagel has worked on major urban development projects and concepts in Hamburg and Berlin. He is a lecturer at the TU Berlin in the subject of Urban Design, a member of the German Academy for Urban Development and Regional Planning, and an associate member of the Association of German Architects. He has been the Chairman of the Executive Board of the Federal Foundation for Baukultur since 2013.

The Federal Foundation of Baukultur, whose headquarters are in Potsdam, has served as an independent institution for promoting architectural culture since 2007. Its goal is to sensitize the public to the concept of architectural culture, initiate a broad-­based debate among construction professionals about its quality, intensify awareness of it in municipalities and federal states, and promote the outstanding qualities of German architectural culture at the international level. The foundation presents the German federal government with a report on architectural culture, combined with recommendations for action, every two years. The foundation’s Friends’ Association has 1,500 active members, including numerous companies such as HOCHTIEF.