History of the ARL

ARL’s efforts to critically review and come to terms with its own history, in particular during the Nazi period (‘Third Reich’), as well as the continuities in personnel between that time and the postwar period were long in coming and arduous.

The first attempts to critically examine the organisation’s history and to confront the history of spatial planning were undertaken in 1994 with the publication of ‘Anspruch und Wirkung der frühen Raumplanung. Zur Entwicklung der Niedersächsischen Landesplanung 1945-1960’ (The aspirations and impact of early spatial planning: On the development of federal state spatial planning in Lower Saxony) by Waldhoff et al. in the ARL Contributions (Volume 130).

This was followed in 2000 by the publication of ‘Die Reichsarbeitsgemeinschaft für Raumforschung (RAG) und die reichsdeutsche Raumplanung seit ihrer Entstehung bis zum Ende des Zweiten Weltkrieges 1945’ (The German Association for Spatial Research (RAG) and spatial planning in the Third Reich until the end of the Second World War in 1945) by Venhoff in the ARL Working Materials series (no. 258).

Further impetus was provided by the exhibition ‘Wissenschaft - Planung - Vertreibung, der Generalplan Ost der Nationalsozialisten’ (Science - Planning - Displacement: the National Socialists’ General Plan East), which was initiated by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) in 2006.

In 2008, the ARL organised its own conference on the history of spatial planning from the Third Reich to the Federal Republic of Germany in collaboration with the Federal Office for Building and Regional Planning (Bundesamt für Bauwesen und Raumordnung, BBR). Heinrich Mäding and Wendelin Strubelt subsequently published the conference papers in ‘Vom Dritten Reich zur Bundesrepublik. Beiträge einer Tagung zur Geschichte von Raumforschung und Raumplanung’ (From the Third Reich to the Federal Republic of Germany. Conference papers on the history of spatial research and spatial planning).

As Kurt Brüning played a key role in the transition from the German Association for Spatial Research (RAG), which was established in 1935, to the Academy for Spatial Research and Planning (ARL) and the development of ARL during the early postwar period, the Steering Committee also commissioned a biographical essay on him in 2009.

In the ‘Grundriss der Raumordnung und Raumentwicklung’ (Outline of Spatial Planning and Spatial Development) of 2011, Hans H. Blotevogel critically reviewed the history of spatial planning and the earlier history of the Academy.

A further milestone in addressing the history of spatial planning and research was the conference in Bonn on 3-4 April 2014; the results were published in 2015 in ‘Raumplanung nach 1945. Kontinuitäten und Neuanfänge in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland’ (Spatial planning after 1945: Continuities and new beginnings in the Federal Republic of Germany) (edited by Wendelin Strubelt and Detlef Briesen, 2015), published by Campus-Verlag.

All of these publications provide illuminating insights on the German Association for Spatial Research (RAG), ARL’s predecessor, as well as on the founding and early years of the Academy. Yet a comprehensive analysis and evaluation of the history of the ARL in line with the standards of a critical history was still lacking. 

Hence, based on a vote by an independent panel of experts, the Academy’s Steering Committee commissioned research entitled ‘Von der RAG zur ARL: Personelle, institutionelle, konzeptionelle und raumplanerische (Dis-)Kontinuitäten’ (From the RAG to ARL: Personnel, institutional, conceptual and spatial planning (dis)continuities) to analyse and assess the ‘transition years’ from Oliver Werner of the Institute for the Didactics of Democracy at the Leibniz University Hannover (IDD - Institut für Didaktik der Demokratie an der Leibniz Universität Hannover) in 2016.

A second research project, closely linked to the first, was funded by the Ministry for Science and Culture of Lower Saxony and headed by Detlef Schmiechen-Ackermann (also of the IDD) on

‘Kontinuitäten und Neuorientierungen. Personelle Netzwerke niedersächsischer Raumwissenschaftler nach 1945’ (Continuities and reorientation: Personnel networks within the spatial sciences in Lower Saxony after 1945).

The key results of the first commissioned research project were presented during a public event at the historical Old Town Hall of the City of Hanover on 7 November 2019.

The proceedings of the conference ‘Von der RAG zur ARL: Personelle, institutionelle, konzeptionelle und raumplanerische (Dis-)Kontinuitäten’ (From the RAG to ARL: Personnel, institutional, conceptual and spatial planning (dis)continuities) was first published online on H-Soz-Kult to reach a broader audience beyond the conference participants, ARL and the spatial science discipline. H-Soz-Kult is an open access information and communication platform for historians, which publishes specialist news and publications after a peer review by the central editorial board at the Institute of History at the Humboldt University of Berlin. In addition, the conference proceedings are also permanently accessible to all interested parties as a publication in the ARL News series, in Volume 3/2019 (pages 30-34).

The proceedings of the colloquium were published in 2020 under the title "Spatial research between National Socialism and Democracy – the difficult heritage of the Reich Association for Spatial Research” as Working Report of the ARL 29 and are available Open Access like all ARL publications. In addition, the conference proceedings edited by Sabine Baumgart (President of the ARL) and Axel Priebs (Vice President of the ARL) can be ordered as a print publication: https://shop.arl-net.de/raumforschung-nationalsozialismus.html.

The study on the ARL elaborated by Dr. Oliver Werner as result of the research project will be published by Wallstein-Verlag in January/February 2022.

Prof. Dr. Andreas Klee
Head of Central Department,
Phone: +49 511 3484239
Email: klee@arl-net.de