The New European Bauhaus – bringing design to the green transition

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Ciarán Cuffe MEP (1) [Ciarán Cuffe]

As Europe looks to adapt to its green and digital future, there will be no one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, projects like the New European Bauhaus should drive culture and design in a sustainable, accessible and fair way, writes Ciarán Cuffe.

Ciarán Cuffe is a Green member of the European Parliament from Ireland. He sits on several committees, including the energy committee, and is the lead lawmaker for the European Parliament’s stance on the energy performance of buildings directive.

Since September 2019, there has been a phrase on everyone’s lips in Brussels: the European Green Deal, the master plan for twin green and digital transitions to take the EU into a decarbonised future. Fast forward two years, and the European Commission is pronouncing the “soul” of the Green Deal to be the New European Bauhaus.

The transition to climate neutrality will see a huge change in citizens’ daily lives across all sectors: from our energy sources and the buildings we live in to the transport we use and the clothes we wear. It will also, by necessity, usher in creativity, innovation and resourcefulness. The fight against climate breakdown is multi-level, and the New European Bauhaus is the missing link between top-down policy actions and grassroots, local activity.

Although we share a common goal of climate neutrality by 2050, there will be no one size fits all to the transition. It will look different in every town, city, region and member state, adapted to the specificity of each place. The people who live there will be the drivers of this change.

It’s clear that change is coming – and quickly. As we adjust to so many aspects of public and private life, how do we ensure people feel ownership over the transition and a connection to the new, greener world of tomorrow? How do we foster this energy and allow people to benefit from each other’s ideas?

The answer is a continent-wide creative movement grounded in the sense of place, beauty, and sustainability right across Europe and beyond. Like the original Bauhaus movement, this is about injecting a feeling of togetherness into a moment of profound change.

That all sounds like an excellent idea, but what is it actually going to look like, and how do we make it happen?

My colleagues and I from the Greens/EFA group decided to put our ideas for the New European Bauhaus into writing in the form of this letter to the Commission. As the Greens/EFA, we want the emphasis on sustainability and biodiversity, accessibility and fairness, inclusivity and transdisciplinarity.

We want the New European Bauhaus to inject culture and design into our green journey. It is about redesigning our public and private spaces, where people live, work, learn and meet together.

When we speak about the built environment, this means focusing on using more natural, and locally-sourced construction materials targeted renovations to ensure buildings are safe and warm places to live and work while increasing energy efficiency to lower their emissions drastically. Innovative and beautiful design will have a crucial role in delivering a renovation wave that people can get excited about and feel comfortable in.

As an architect and city planner by training, I see this initiative as an opportunity to incorporate these green measures, so crucial for reaching our climate goals, into an aesthetic movement that people will recognise. Its influence will be visible in the buildings that we design and renovate, the places we call our own, and the objects we use in our daily lives.

We also want the New European Bauhaus to be conscious of including a broad range of voices. It is vital that it be a participatory, grassroots and inclusive process. It should incorporate multi-level governance as a standard, actively listening to and involving the people on the ground.

We need to facilitate input from those who are differently-abled and marginalised in our societies. Remote, rural and island regions should also have equal access to New European Bauhaus knowledge and opportunities, as much as bigger towns and cities. I am encouraged that the Commission’s idea for a ‘New European Bauhaus-lab’ will contribute to this democratisation of sustainable solutions.

New European Bauhaus projects should keep coherence with the ambition of other EU instruments – particularly upcoming legislation from the Fit for 2030 package. I am thinking of such files as revising the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive or the Renewable Energy Directive.

The first New European Bauhaus prize award ceremony took place in 2021. There were over 2,000 applications from all EU member states, and 20 winning projects were chosen from a shortlist of 60.

There was everything from community allotment projects, DIY furniture workshops, rewilding of rooftops with public gardens, cultural heritage sites regenerated, dance festivals in remote rural areas to new low-carbon and reusable building materials, modular affordable and social housing units, and multi-purpose community centres.

The New European Bauhaus as a movement should be conscious that the transition to a carbon-neutral society can, and must, overlap with a place’s social emergencies. We see this already in projects responding to multiple needs at once: reducing the energy efficiency of buildings and providing social housing; tackling biodiversity loss and the need for meeting spaces in urban centres; brain drain and absence of culture in rural areas.

It’s about using what we already have – the natural environment and human creativity – to find ourselves in the transition. The New European Bauhaus will connect us on this journey, promoting projects and connecting people in different cities, regions, and countries working on similar goals.

The first New European Bauhaus Festival will occur this year from 9-12 June 2022. Events will take place not just in Brussels but across the EU and beyond. If you would like to propose a side event to the Festival, you have until 7 March to signal your interest and get involved!

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