BUILDING TOMORROW: Exploring The New European Bauhaus Initiative

21 March 2024 /

7 min

The New European Bauhaus (NEB) serves as the cultural expression of the Green Deal's ethos.

As the Bauhaus celebrates its centenary, it faces today’s global challenges heads on. Enter the New European Bauhaus (NEB): a beacon of sustainability within the European Green Deal. Led by President von der Leyen, NEB harmonises nature, society, and architecture for a cleaner and fairer European Union. Projects from across the EU compete for the desired NEB nomination each year, offering glimpses into a brighter future. 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made a compelling case for a new reform initiative during her opening statement at the European Parliament’s plenary session on the 16th of September 2020. Considering the manifold crises confronting the European Union, von der Leyen rallied architects, artists, students, scientists, engineers, and designers to support ecological change blending sustainability with aesthetics in the upcoming years.

In aligning with the Green Deal’s objectives, von der Leyen underscored the imperative for a cultural shift, positioning the initiative as a “new cultural project for Europe”. This systemic transformation, she argued, demands its own aesthetic language, one that seamlessly integrates design with sustainability principles.

At the heart of this cultural renaissance lies the New European Bauhaus (NEB), which serves as the cultural expression of the Green Deal’s ethos. Echoing the spirit of the traditional Bauhaus, NEB embodies concepts of awakening, renewal, and change. Just as Robert Schuman once called for a broad-based cultural initiative to rebuild Europe after the Second World War, von der Leyen emphasised the need to link growth and economic factors with culture and emotion to resonate with people.

In emphasising the role of beauty in policymaking, von der Leyen positioned the NEB as a symbol of belief in the power of design to shape a better world. By placing beauty at the forefront of its agenda, the European Commission signalled a paradigm shift, recognising design as inherently political and capable of effecting meaningful change.

The Origins of the European Bauhaus

The destruction that the Great War left behind gave impetus to a trend that proposed that art should have a social role and improve people’s lives. Architecture was not left out of this movement, and was quickly influenced by this thinking, giving rise to the Bauhaus movement in 1919 initiated by Walter Gropius in the Weimar Republic. It is characterised by the search for simplicity and, above all, the functionality of buildings, with the aim of improving people’s lives through art. 

At its core, the Bauhaus espoused a revolutionary approach that transcended disciplinary boundaries, embracing a synthesis of art, craft, and technology. 

The principles of Bauhaus reverberate through design history, leaving an indelible imprint on modern design movements. From the sleek lines of mid-century modernism to the minimalist ethos of Scandinavian design, Bauhaus’s influence is unmistakable. Its emphasis on clean lines, geometric forms, and the marriage of form and function continues to shape contemporary design sensibilities.

Moreover, Bauhaus’s emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration and the democratisation of design laid the groundwork for a myriad of design disciplines, from graphic to industrial design. Its ethos of experimentation and innovation inspired generations of designers to push the boundaries of creativity and to challenge established norms.

The New European Bauhaus as a Vehicle for Sustainability 

Under the umbrella of the NEB, innovative projects and initiatives are taking shape, each a testament to the movement’s commitment to sustainability. From the use of renewable materials to energy-efficient design solutions, these endeavours showcase the transformative potential of design in mitigating environmental impacts.

Take, for instance, the “Green Roofs for All” initiative, which seeks to transform urban landscapes by harnessing the power of green infrastructure. Through the integration of living roofs into the architectural designs, this project not only enhances biodiversity and air quality, but also mitigates the “urban heat island effect”, allowing for more liveable and sustainable cities.

In the realm of product design, initiatives like the “Circular Design Challenge” are leading the charge towards a more circular economy. By reimagining the lifecycle of products and materials, designers are pioneering innovative solutions that minimise waste and maximise resource efficiency. From upcycled furniture to biodegradable packaging, these products embody the ethos of sustainability without compromising on style or functionality.

Moreover, in the realm of architecture and urban planning, projects like the “Zero Carbon Communities” initiative are paving the way for a carbon-neutral future. By prioritising passive design strategies, renewable energy sources, and sustainable building materials, the projects demonstrate that sustainability and aesthetic appeal do not have to be mutually exclusive.

The New European Bauhaus as a Promoter of Inclusivity

At the heart of the NEB lies a commitment to inclusivity. Gone are the days of exclusive design reserved for the privileged few. Instead, the movement champions a democratic approach to design, where everyone – regardless of background or ability – has a seat at the table.

Central to this ethos is the concept of universal design, which seeks to create environments and products that are usable by people of all ages and abilities. Whether it is designing public spaces, housing complexes, or transportation systems, the New European Bauhaus places a premium on accessibility, ensuring that no one is left behind.

The New European Bauhaus Addressing Societal Challenges

The NEB is not just about aesthetics; it is about solving real-world problems. From the housing crises all over Europe, to the lack of accessibility for persons with disabilities, the movement confronts pressing societal challenges head-on, offering innovative design solutions that prioritise people over profits. In cities like Riga and Barcelona, affordable housing projects are reimagining the concept of urban living, providing low-cost, high-quality housing options for residents of all income levels. 

Furthermore, the NEB recognises the importance of cultural integration in fostering social cohesion. By celebrating diversity and promoting intercultural exchange, projects like community gardens, multicultural centres, and public art installations bridge divides and create common ground for dialogue and understanding.

The NEB represents more than just a design movement – it is a catalyst for social change, paving the way for a more inclusive, equitable, and cohesive Europe.

The New European Bauhaus’ Impact and Future

Since its inception, the NEB has sparked a wave of creativity and innovation across the continent. From the cobblestone streets of Lisbon to the bustling avenues of Berlin, architects, designers, and thinkers have rallied behind its call for sustainability, inclusivity, and aesthetic excellence. Yet, its impact transcends mere aesthetics; it is about redefining the very essence of design. The movement has demonstrated the tangible benefits of integrating sustainability into urban planning and architecture. By engaging communities in the design process, it has fostered a sense of ownership and pride, transforming once-neglected spaces into vibrant hubs of activity.

However, the road to revolution is fraught with challenges. Despite its lofty ambitions, the NEB faces formidable obstacles on its path to realisation. Funding constraints, bureaucratic red tape, and diverging national agendas threaten to stifle its momentum and undermine its impact. 

Undeniably, the European Union has substantial power in shaping policies that concern environmental protection, energy efficiency, and infrastructure development. However, when it comes to housing policies and urbanism, the EU sees its hands tied. Therefore, while the NEB can influence and inspire new ideas and projects in the architectural and urbanist domain, it is left only as an encouragement for member states to work together and share examples of good practices.

At the same time, the NEB initiative’s launch has been overshadowed by political turbulences, national imperatives of economic recovery, or emergencies that hoarded the attention of the broad public and decision-makers. Although the goals the NEB pursuits resonate with government ideals of targeting issues that impact the lives of their citizens, they are often left behind in the context of a cacophony of crises and concerns.

Yet, despite these challenges, the New European Bauhaus remains a beacon of hope for a brighter future. As we stand on the precipice of a new era, its principles of sustainability, inclusivity, and innovation are more relevant than ever. By harnessing the power of design to shape our built environment and transform our communities, it offers a glimpse of what tomorrow could be. As the sun rises on a new day, let us not forget the lessons of the past nor the promise of the future. The New European Bauhaus is not merely a movement; it is a call to action, a rallying cry for change. Together, let us shape tomorrow’s world – one design at a time.

Rocio Rivera is a master student at the Institute of European Studies.

(Edited by Luka Krauss)

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