TUM Emeritus of Excellence Holger Magel

“I was lucky to be able to put my own theories into practice“

At school Holger Magel developed a liking for the sustainable design of villages and landscapes. Today the TUM Alumnus has gained a national and international reputation for his commitment in village renewal and rural development.

Holger Magel’s interest in nature and in “wanting to protect landscapes, history, identity and homeland” was inspired as early as during his elementary school days in Neuburg. Numerous excursions organised by the local teacher there, amongst others to nearby Donaumoos (Danubian Moor) and Urdonautal (Ancient Danubian Valley), brought this subject matter to his attention. Initially the young man from Ottheinrichstadt, who was the Swabian decathlon champion back then, wanted to study sports and maths. Due to an injury he opted for the broad degree programme Geodesy at TUM instead, which contains planning and working in landscapes. “This allowed me to scientifically develop my connection with landscapes and settlements”, Holger Magel remembers today.

Practical Experience for Research

When the Bavarian Office for Land Consolidation established the endowed Chair for Land Consolidation and Rural Development at TUM in order to finally enable independent scientific research, the young engineer Holger Magel was transferred over from the Department of Land Consolidation in Munich. He had already received the Staatspreis (state award) for his recently completed first project in the Erding district and was now, with the help of his practical experience, expected to steer the new chair’s research into the right direction.

Land Consolidation is Becoming Eco-Friendly and Participatory

Upon the professor’s early death Magel not only established the academic chair but also lead the first major German-wide research project on village renewal, which was to become the foundation of the village renewal boom in Bavaria and Germany. As the newly appointed Head of Village Renewal in the Ministry of Agriculture Magel had the opportunity to put his own theories, in fact for all of Bavaria, into practice. Influenced by exchanges with the TUM professors Wolfgang Haber, Günther Grzimek and Helmut Gebhard Magel furthermore revolutionized the practice of land consolidation.

It was another model, namely the ‘three-step landscaping’, developed together with Haber-student Fritz Auweck, which Magel managed to implement all throughout Bavaria – and indeed very successfully: it instantly silenced previous criticism from nature and bird conservationists, as well as preservationists of local history and monuments. The scientific methods of aesthetic and ecological balance, which were used in Germany for the first time, even convinced sharp critics. Since then Magel swears by the motto: “Nothing is more practical than a good theory.”

Confidence allows for other opinions.

What was new about Magels methodology was particularly his interactive and participatory approach. The oftentimes controversial exchange and sharing of views and knowledge between professors, monument and local history preservationists, town planners, anthropologists, hydraulic engineers and environmentalists, which was taught and cultivated at the Chair for Land Consolidation and Rural Development, frequently made his projects to reduce rural depopulation and village demise a success.

Not least because here, he always counted on the village population’s active participation. Only if they too sufficiently appreciate the conditions  of living in rural areas and are able to contribute to improving them, Holger Magel feels that he has reached his goal. ‘Together’ and not ‘top-down’ is his approach to redeveloping villages and to preserving and renewing rural life. In order to establish a sound methodological foundation for this desired participation Magel has not only conducted extensive practical research, but has also set up the three Bavarian schools for village renewal and urban development.

For a more just world

In 1998 Holger Magel returned to TUM with an increasingly broader and wider area of teaching, research and consulting. His i nterest now also included ‘Land Management in Urban and Rural Areas’ – as the degree programme he established and which is unique in Germany is called – , encompassing all rural areas and their interdependencies to urban areas. Magel is training master students from all over the world and as the ‘world president of surveyors’ and president of the Bavarian Academy ‘Ländlicher Raum’ (Rural Areas) is preaching the message of a more just world. For this, too he has developed a model: the Model of Spatial Justice. And once again he had the chance to help transfer this theory into practice – in Bavaria, Germany or in China, Cambodia, Georgia or elsewhere.

Even though Holger Magel is meanwhile retired since 2012, he is as committed as ever – at home and abroad. As an Emeritus of Excellence he sees himself as an international ambassador for TUM and for rural areas with the aim of making people worldwide – citizens, experts and decision makers alike – aware of the importance to preserve an indispensable balance between cities and the countryside and of mobilizing them to take action. Because, according to Magel: “If the land isn’t breathing anymore, the cities suffocate.”