Vol. 8, No. 2 (March 2004)    


___Eduard Führ
  'Baukultur' (Architecture and Culture)
Questions and Questions again


In the last few months people in Germany much discussed ‘construction culture’. The reason for this was the intended foundation of the “Federal Foundation for Construction Culture” (Bundesstiftung Baukultur).

The important stages of today's official activities concerning construction culture are:

·         In autumn 2000 the Federal Secretary for Transport, Construction and Housing founded the 'initiative construction culture' and appointed a steering group; Gert Kähler was commissioned to compile a status report.

·         In November a text with the title ‘A National Foundation for Construction Culture?’ is presented and published on the internet in the responsibility of Karl Ganser and Ulrike Rose. It was commissioned by the Supporting Association of the Berlin Centre for Architecture (DAZ e.V.) and was compiled from talks with architects, planners, curators of monuments, and architectural journalists. In this work – I would like to call it 'memorandum' – 5 basic values are cited to which everybody will subscribe from our temporary perspective of today: sustainability, respect for history, identity, regionality, and beauty.

·         The convention 'Construction Culture in Germany' was held from December 3rd to 5th 2001 in Cologne. Organisers and partners were the Federal Ministry for Transport, Construction and Habitation, the authorised representatives of the Federal Government for issues of culture and media, of the Federal Chamber of Architects, of the Federal Chamber of Engineers, further organisations and unions of architects, engineers and planners, the Federal Union of Applied Arts (which demonstrates the close connection of applied arts in construction), the German Foundation for Building Conservation, the German Architectural Museum, the German Centre for Architecture and the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation; additionally representatives of the  ministerial conference on construction of the federal countries, of the city municipalities, the construction industry, banking industry, real estate companies and the regional development companies. There were 8 addresses and presentations (Ungers, Großmann, Conradi, Schwinn, Welsch, Bodewig, Kähler and Ganser); the status report was presented.

·         The status report was published in May 2002.

·         The Federal Government accepted the report and presented it to the German Parliament for discussion (summer 2002, autumn 2003)

·         In November 2001 a sponsoring association was founded and four moderators appointed (Peter Conradi, Federal Chamber of Architects, Prof. Dr. Karl Ganser, Federal Foundation for Construction Culture, parliamentary undersecretary Achim Großmann, Heinrich Schwinn, Federal Chamber of Engineers).

·         A founder circle of 120 persons was convened in spring 2002.

·         For the XXI. World Congress of the UIA in Berlin in summer 2002 a two volume book was prepared. In the 1st volume the winners of architectural awards, who have been convened for the first convent in spring 2003, are presented with pictures of their premiered works, in the 2nd volume follows a short description of their positions regarding core issues and tasks as well as a listing of declarations and of members of the founders’ circle.

·         From April 4th to 5th 2003 the 1st Convention for Construction Culture was held in the former assembly room of the German Parliament. The circle of participants was extended to award winners of competitions in the area of construction (in 2003 it comprised a total of 490 people).

·         In autumn 2003, the convention elected a committee of 20 members who met in November 2003 for the first time.

The aim is the improvement of construction culture, on a practical level it aims

·         to negotiate a code of conduct for all parties involved in construction (private and public clients, architects, city developers and planners, construction industry, property developer),

·         to align marked authorities of construction culture,

·         to present exemplary buildings and

·         to ensure "quality".

If you have a closer look at the activities, some fundamental questions arise:


It is a fundamental problem who is legitimised by what authority to play a part in the production of construction culture.
The authors talk about a network 'of free spirits' in the first more detailed publication concerning construction culture, the memorandum of the DAZ of November 15th, 2001. The first round in a panel discussion in December 2001 regards ‘the high rank of the participants in a discussion’ as an important criterion for the emergence of construction culture (Documentation ‘Construction Culture in Germany’ Berlin/Bonn May 2002, p. 41). For the benefit of construction culture Federal President Johannes Rau looks for people, “who have the ability and the personal authority to set points of reference for buildings of excellence and to define criteria of quality, which no one should fall short of.” (point VII of his speech of April 4th, 2003). One counts on people  with "obvious achievements in construction culture" (Vol. 1 of the publication of the UIA World Convention, p. 10).

However, how do I find spirits who are free? How do I find the ability to set standards? How do I find obvious achievements?
The initiators have decided to choose prize-winners from the area of architecture (more on that below).

However, don't we have to discuss to what extent an award has something to do with construction culture? Shouldn’t we then first examine, if a building which has received an award by the corresponding industry for the excellent usage of the material X has anything to do with construction culture or just makes excellent use of the material X (which is already something excellent in itself)?

The prices are awarded according to certain aspects, don't we have to discuss – if we have decided in the end that it has something to do with construction culture – in which aspects it has achieved construction culture and in which aspects it hasn’t yet? Is it a given necessity that a structure, which has won the construction material X award, has also realised a ground plan which is valuable in terms of construction culture?
Don’t we have to discuss, if the addition of all factually given awards really covers all aspects of construction culture, or don’t we have to examine if there are also areas, where there is no award, but which would be central for a comprehensive realisation of construction culture?

Don’t we have to think about the connection of an award for a building and who wins the prize? Prize winners are not exceptional people (if you don’t count those who receive an award for their lifetime achievement), but have rather built an exceptional building. And just one to be precise. Many of their other projects have received no awards and are consequently – if you follow the logic through – not construction culture. Or should the buildings which have received no awards become construction culture nonetheless? Because its author has achieved construction culture once? This would cast a doubt on the appointment because of having won an award. And it would lead to some kind of strange genetics.
Don’t we rather have to think about the connection of an award winning work and the awarding members of the jury?
I think it would be more justified to appoint the members of the jury as knights of the round table than the authors of an award winning work. Because in the end it was them who have realised what construction culture is and why this one work of an author is construction culture and why another isn’t. According to the understanding of the initiators of construction culture a jury can’t fail (award=construction culture). So why not bring together their members in a meta jury for construction culture? Or can it fail in the end? But what should we to do then with award winning works and prize-winners?

Don’t we have to see the ability to set points of reference rather under the issue of social power? Because in the end it is not the ability to set standards, but rather the ability and the skill that the set standards are seen and accepted by everyone else as points of reference.

The initiators long for unique (but tame) people, why isn’t then “that Swizz guy” – like Ganser says referring to EXPO 2000 – “who stole all the others the show with a couple of wooden boards” appointed? Or that Dutchman who is actually a trained journalist?
Does construction culture end at national frontiers? Is this true in Europe of the 21st century?

On one hand everyone agrees that things have to be done for construction culture, that things are thus not running that smoothly, on the other hand hardly anyone beats against his own chest (or the one of their institution).
The president of the Federal Chamber of Engineers states this particularly clearly, who proudly stresses the publication of the newest yearbook with these words ‘that we would like to prove [with this book] the contribution of engineers to German construction culture’. The 3rd panel discussion of December 2001 as a whole has this tendency, Sauerbruch thinks, that German building production is better that its reputation, Mönninger feels that the “howling and complaining” is an incomprehensible self humiliation.
Shouldn’t we think that improvement always implies a detailed and analytical self criticism – even if the situation was already satisfactory / even if it would be very good – but before even that would have to be the willingness (and ability) for analysis.


Already the memorandum details the process of how construction culture shall be developed, in that the important role of competitions and citizen participation is emphasised.
The president of the chamber of engineers demands for the protection of construction culture (!!!) that more opportunities for competitions for engineers are offered with attractive prizes (Documentation 'Construction Culture in Germany’; Berlin/Bonn May 2002, p. 22).
The first round of panel discussions in December 2001 regards the "cooperation of everyone involved in the process of 'construction culture' and participation of the municipal authorities as confident partners" as well as fair conditions for everyone as a precondition for the emergence of construction culture.
Peter Conradi thinks that construction culture establishes itself, if the federal parliament discusses the matter and if the government and all its subsidiary enterprises call an open public competition for all their building tasks (Conradi speaks as the president of the Federal Architects’ Chamber) (Documentation for ‘Construction Culture in Germany’ Berlin/Bonn May 2002, p. 19). On top he would like to see a German School of Architecture again, as well as regional centres for architecture, in which the architecture of our times is presented and mediated to the public.

It won’t be the case that he envisages that architects discuss with each other, nor that they learn from their users or their audiences (it is known that architects are reluctant towards Post Occupancy Evaluations and aesthetic reception analysis), the architects seem to know quite clearly and without doubt and without the necessity for internal professional discourse what construction culture actually is. The question arises now, though, why there wasn’t enough construction culture until now.

So obviously it isn't all about the discussion and the joint development of suitable methods for the emergence of construction culture but rather a – bureaucratic institutionalised – self-presentation and therefore self-affirmation.
One doesn’t discuss. One doesn’t want to study but to instruct. The topic is not how to think construction culture or how to win others for it; the meetings serve for the self affirmation of one’s own construction culture. It is only to be discussed how it could be taught to others, as especially the president of the Chamber of Engineers remarks: “... it has been realised, that nobody denies the essential contribution, which the engineers make with their work, their creativity, and their expertise towards our built environment and thus to construction culture in Germany.” (Documentation for ‘Construction Culture in Germany’; Berlin/Bonn May 2002, p. 21).


Of which culture are we speaking in construction culture? What has “construction culture” to do with different "cultures" in a city?
Is culture understood in terms of cultural studies? How can we talk about aesthetic and normative standards then?
Are we talking about culture in the 19th century’s delimitation concerning and contrasting civilization? Is culture depth of soul?

Is it all about a construction culture in Germany or all about a German construction culture?
If this should be the case (see preface by Bodewig in the Status Report p. 3), is there actually a cultural identity of building, of a construction culture in Germany? As it was the case in the Lower Saxon naved house and in the South German late Baroque?
What defines German construction culture? How can we achieve it?

Is it all about everyday culture (such as in Großmann) or about high culture? Or is it about both? How do we have to think about their relation then? Is everyday culture a ‘seeping’ phenomenon?

Can we leave such an important concept undefined today so that we may bend it for policies in the arts, guilds, professions, and in federal politics?

Does construction culture mean the quality of a structure, the actions which produce the structure or the usage of the work?

How can the dissonant demands on the city and quickly changing social conditions be put in relationship to “construction culture”, how can and should “construction culture” interact with democracy, how shall “construction culture” interface with the appropriation of the city as a living space, what can and shall “construction culture” achieve in terms of living quality?


Construction culture is said to be a journey of discovery into the 21st century (Memorandum 2001, p. 14). However the authors of the memorandum note that people turn to the culture of the past more and more. This should be accepted and people should also be shown that one respects their longing (cf. p. 21), because you would also start to build confidence for the new, if it only was developed with sensitivity, if it was explained and implemented without pressure. This would have been the deficit of modernity as Ganser continues – while shifting the perspective a bit – on the congress in December 2001 and complains (the same as Welsch) that modernity hadn’t accepted any historical rooting. This stance of the Initiative for Construction Culture is also emphasised by Jörg Haspel in the 2nd volume of the publication of the Initiative on occasion of the XXI. World Congress. Like Hermann Lübbe who states that the efforts to visualise the past increase due to the modernity of life (cited in Haspel), Haspel asserts that holding on to the past becomes a necessary corrective. He demands 'respect for history' and 'respect for a historical construction culture'.

The positions in the inner circle are thus divergent, the direction of construction culture undecided. A decision would be necessary.

Even though we have to remark that the criticism on modernity’s lack of history is a common accusation. On the other hand it doesn’t prove the accusation wrong. In a certain sense it is even correct. But it is not an accusation, because the lack of history is one of the great positive achievements of modernity with respect to the common reduction of history to the past. The modernists have put an end to the flight of architects from the present into functionally, socially and aesthetically obsolete pasts, they have sought an integration into contemporary social movements and developed architectural solutions for the future which others have neglected for several decades. The modernists have realised that history has two dimensions. Respect for history thus not only means respect for past history, but also respect for the possibility of future history, of the future. Of course future needs the past, but only in so far as it needs a starting point, not as a home, but rather as a harbour where to equip oneself to discover new countries. What future needs is above all future.

The discussion about history is marked in the initiative on 'construction culture' even by historical unawareness. The history of the discussion of construction culture – concerning issues of the ‘querelle' or of ‘German Practice and Art' and of the ‘works of culture’ or of the search for a German democratic construction culture – is displaced. The result is a devoid concept of (construction) culture.

The de-historification of the discussion about construction culture can also be seen in the merely superficial reference to present social (economic, social, everyday cultural) changes.


Which concepts of art and beauty are to be discussed by 'construction culture'? Are the modern ideas of the 20th century’s arts integrated? How can a contemporary aesthetics of architecture and the city be formulated? How do ‘architecture’ and ‘construction culture’ distinguish themselves?

People would agree (cf. the first panel discussion in December 2001) that there are "no longer any valid definitions and – for intellectual honesty’s sake – there shouldn’t be” (Documentation ‘Construction Culture in Germany’; Berlin/Bonn May 2002, p. 39)

What is actually lamented there? That there shall be no validity, or rather that there shall be no more definitions? But what is different now? Aren’t there also valid definitions in the procedures suggested by the ‘Initiative’, only that they are no longer laid open and explicitly referred to as definitions.

Karl Ganser pleads for a black and white book in which the good examples are contrasted by the bad cases, “which people refer to as a disgrace” (p. 67). Aren’t these the criticised ‘valid definitions’ coming in through the backdoor of the individual case? Can you develop an obligatory aesthetic on the basis of individual cases at all?


What kind of architectural concept does 'construction culture' imply? Which relations of art, function, field of action, infrastructure, materiality and virtuality of architecture are here relevant? In which signs, languages, codes, symbol systems can 'construction culture' express itself, how is it the basis for and how does it enable communication?

The understanding of architecture (and here we shall only deal with what they present as their understanding of architecture in the framework of activities concerning construction culture and what they thus contribute to the understanding of construction culture) varies considerably in those who are participating in the activities for construction culture.
Some of them define it as built environment, some as form of the built environment.
Johannes Rau understands architecture in terms of function for the user. For Peter Conradi architecture is primarily an instrument for the liberation of people and for a beautiful and good life (Documentation “Construction Culture in Germany”; Berlin/Bonn May 2002, p. 19).
Isn't construction culture then in each case something completely different?

Actually how about habitation?
However, without wanting to quote the great philosopher, habitation isn't (in a broader sense acquiring the creative and aesthetic practice) the meaning of architecture and thus the aim of the building. Shouldn't those who live in it justify and determine what is construction culture in the end?

But are they able to do this? In how far are they able to? Are they enabled for this?

A suggestion for goodness sake

The guiding principle for the place and institution of construction culture shouldn't be a school of architecture, but a café, as it was envisioned by Habermas as an ideal: in principle, the discourse must be accessible for everyone, it must be led independent of the social identity of the participants, there should not be any exclusion or taboo concerning its topics.
And if the 'café' wasn’t the rooms of an inn but the spaces of the city, we could get started.

And: Those should discuss about construction culture who ”still – not yet”  know what it is.




Vol. 8, No. 2 (March 2004)