by Joachim Goetz

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion has launched a vision­ary ini­tia­tive for more sus­tain­abil­i­ty, aes­thet­ics, inclu­siv­i­ty in the con­struc­tion industry.

The whole world needs new ideas. One of them is the New Euro­pean Bauhaus, or NEB for short. The EU Com­mis­sion with Ursu­la von der Leyen sur­prised us with this in the fall of 2020. The project has one thing in com­mon with the his­toric Bauhaus school found­ed by Wal­ter Gropius in Weimar in 1919: it is intend­ed to her­ald a change in values.

The aim is to dri­ve the Green Deal in the archi­tec­ture and urban plan­ning sec­tor and beyond. By 2050, the EU aims to reduce net green­house gas emis­sions to zero and become the first “con­ti­nent” to become cli­mate neu­tral. To achieve this, build­ing, which is at the fore­front of CO2 emis­sions, account­ing for more than 40 per­cent of glob­al emis­sions, must become more climate-friendly.

A ren­o­va­tion wave is intend­ed to make the EU a fron­trun­ner in terms of the cir­cu­lar econ­o­my. But it is not just sus­tain­abil­i­ty that is being sought, but a sys­tem change that man­i­fests itself with its own feel and face. In oth­er words, also cre­at­ing its own aes­thet­ics. Thus, the NEB is to become a space in which archi­tects, artists, stu­dents, engi­neers and design­ers work togeth­er and cre­ative­ly to real­ize the world of tomor­row. That sounds quite aspi­ra­tional. “Bridges between the world of sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy, art and cul­ture” are to be built. That, on the oth­er hand, sounds abstract.

The vision then quick­ly becomes con­crete — as do, in fact, many oth­er planned mea­sures. The idea is to make direct­ly tan­gi­ble changes on the ground that improve our dai­ly lives — in build­ings, in pub­lic spaces, but also in the form of fash­ion or furniture.

A think-and-do tank

But how is the imple­men­ta­tion going? After all, the EU has made around 85 mil­lion euros avail­able for the peri­od 2021/22 — or rather, real­lo­cat­ed it.

The key com­po­nents of the NEB are five light­house projects, each of which will receive fund­ing of 5 mil­lion euros. In addi­tion, there will be a fes­ti­val in Brus­sels in June, an NEB lab­o­ra­to­ry (Lab), var­i­ous prizes and much more.

The “think-and-do tank” at the lev­el of the doers is the Lab. In this project-based online struc­ture, teams can orga­nize them­selves and exchange con­tacts, knowl­edge and exper­tise. Fund­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties can be explored, such as in-kind, EU, nation­al, region­al, local fund­ing or sponsorship.

Sub­mis­sions can include sus­tain­able, inclu­sive, beau­ti­ful places, prod­ucts or expe­ri­ences and ini­tia­tives to achieve this. The idea behind it: One wants to pub­li­cize results that are prac­ti­cal and replic­a­ble. Where­by com­mu­ni­ties and ecosys­tems must ben­e­fit from the change process­es. Par­tic­i­pa­to­ry design meth­ods and tools are need­ed. Invit­ed experts estab­lish cri­te­ria that ulti­mate­ly enno­ble a sub­mit­ted idea as an NEB project.

There will also be a high-lev­el round­table. The experts, includ­ing Shigeru Ban, Bjarke Ingels and the young Nor­we­gian cli­mate activist Gina Gylve, explain their expec­ta­tions of the NEB in their per­son­al pre­sen­ta­tions, which can be found on the web­site. List­ed “Friends” and “Part­ners” — such as archi­tec­tur­al firms, design-relat­ed com­pa­nies, fac­ul­ties, NGOs — sup­port the idea.

Five flag­ship projects for Europe

The five flag­ship projects, which serve as mod­els for oth­er Euro­pean cities, are intend­ed to ensure the trans­fer­abil­i­ty of find­ings. Most of them are still to be real­ized. They are to be regard­ed as case stud­ies and real­ized under method­olog­i­cal-sci­en­tif­ic approaches.

Among 40 appli­ca­tions, the Cul­tu­ur­cam­pus, a project for the upgrad­ing of the dis­ad­van­taged south of the port city of Rot­ter­dam, was select­ed. The project is linked to an urban regen­er­a­tion project. The focus is on pub­lic trans­port, the need to ren­o­vate hous­ing for 200,000 res­i­dents, and improv­ing train­ing and job opportunities.

NEB-STAR was also select­ed. It is about the cli­mate-neu­tral city and will be imple­ment­ed in Sta­vanger, Nor­way, in Utrecht and in Prague. EHHUR (Eyes Hearts Hands Urban Rev­o­lu­tion) is anoth­er supra­na­tion­al project that is being imple­ment­ed in Den­mark, Greece, Turkey, Bel­gium, Por­tu­gal, Hun­gary and Italy. It address­es the spa­tial needs of his­toric city cen­ters affect­ed by decay and pop­u­la­tion loss. Oth­er mea­sures are direct­ed against social exclu­sion and the ener­gy pover­ty that pre­vails there.

Bio­di­ver­si­ty decline, access to resources, and cli­mate change impacts are the themes of DESIRE (Design­ing the Irrestible Cir­cu­lar Soci­ety). The over­ar­ch­ing idea is to rec­on­cile urban struc­tures with the sur­round­ing nature. Sub-projects will take place in Latvia, Den­mark, the Nether­lands, Italy and Slove­nia. Ini­tial demon­stra­tion objects are an urban trans­for­ma­tion in Kalund­borg, social hous­ing in Taas­trup, and the repur­pos­ing of a vacant tar factory.

Neu­per­lach as a show­case project

Num­ber five is the Bavar­i­an project called NEBour­hoods. It aims to make Munich’s Neu­per­lach dis­trict fit for the future. Planned in the 1960s, the “relief city” — once the largest new urban devel­op­ment project in post-war Ger­many — is get­ting on in years. Hall­mark: Huge octag­o­nal ring of build­ings, some with 18-sto­ry high-ris­es, sep­a­rate infra­struc­ture for motor vehi­cles and pedes­tri­ans, and mixed-use devel­op­ment — but most of this has been abandoned.
The focal points of the revi­tal­iza­tion pro­gram include health, food sup­ply, ener­gy, mobil­i­ty, and cir­cu­lar­i­ty. Numer­ous part­ners are involved, includ­ing asso­ci­a­tions, uni­ver­si­ties, plan­ners, asso­ci­a­tions, the city, and companies.

The neigh­bor­hood has strengths and weak­ness­es. On the one hand, there is a strong sense of com­mu­ni­ty, and exten­sive green spaces are avail­able. The res­i­den­tial build­ings offer a dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed range of hous­ing types. How­ev­er, the neigh­bor­hood has the image of a social hotspot. Unem­ploy­ment is above aver­age, and the lev­el of edu­ca­tion is below average.

Impor­tant steps and areas of work are the rede­vel­op­ment and reden­si­fi­ca­tion of the build­ing fab­ric or the trans­for­ma­tion of the cen­ter, which still some­what resem­bles a vacuum.

The wood-hybrid structure of the Gleis 21 project in Vienna was built using an innovative assembly method based on prefabrication. Future residents were involved throughout the process. (Einzueins Architekten, photo: Hertha Hurnaus)
The wood-hybrid structure of the Gleis 21 project in Vienna was built using an innovative assembly method based on prefabrication. Future residents were involved throughout the process. (Einzueins Architekten, photo: Hertha Hurnaus)
The resident now jointly own, operate and manage this cohousing project, which focuses on affordability, integration, community and solidarity. (Photo: Hertha Hurnaus)
The resident now jointly own, operate and manage this cohousing project, which focuses on affordability, integration, community and solidarity. (Photo: Hertha Hurnaus)

There is some­thing to celebrate

Trig­ger­ing a more spe­cif­ic dynam­ic by strength­en­ing the sense of com­mu­ni­ty is the goal of the fes­ti­val, first held in Brus­sels in June 2022. It gives vis­i­bil­i­ty and pres­ence to the actors of change. Progress and results can be shared here.
There are three com­po­nents to the whole thing: The forum aims to ini­ti­ate pol­i­cy and action-ori­ent­ed debates on the design of projects. At the fair, project ideas, pro­to­types and results are pre­sent­ed, as well as meth­ods, tools, tech­nolo­gies, prod­ucts and instru­ments of action. In addi­tion, they ini­ti­at­ed a cul­tur­al pro­gram with exhi­bi­tions also vir­tu­al, as well as per­for­mances and talks.

The NEB fes­ti­val reached about 200,000 peo­ple with its events in more than 20 Euro­pean coun­tries as well as with dig­i­tal for­mats — which is not so bad. Par­tic­i­pants had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to share and cel­e­brate the prin­ci­ples of the New Euro­pean Bauhaus — beau­ty, sus­tain­abil­i­ty, inclusion.

Prizes are a must

In addi­tion, the win­ners of the NEB Awards were announced, which were award­ed in four cat­e­gories for four projects each. These include both com­plet­ed projects (NEB Awards) and fresh ideas and exper­i­men­tal con­cepts from young tal­ents under 30 (NEB Ris­ing Stars).

  • In the cat­e­go­ry “Return­ing to Nature”, a Ger­man project was also able to assert itself as a Ris­ing Star: The Sym­bi­ot­ic Spaces Col­lec­tive uses a 3D print­er to cre­ate cross-species habi­tats made of clay for urban wildlife.
  • Gleis 21,” a Vien­nese hous­ing project, won in the “Recov­er­ing a Sense of Belong­ing” sec­tor. In addi­tion to the building’s wood-hybrid con­struc­tion, made in an inno­v­a­tive assem­bly process, the coop­er­a­tive char­ac­ter of the con­cept also appealed. The res­i­dents — also own­ers — were involved in the con­struc­tion process. Afford­abil­i­ty, inclu­sion, com­mu­ni­ty and sol­i­dar­i­ty are impor­tant to them.
  • In the “Pri­or­i­ty for places and peo­ple who need sup­port most” cat­e­go­ry, the win­ner was Stu­dio Jan Vermeulen’s De Koren­bloem prop­er­ty in Kor­trijk, Bel­gium. The care cam­pus was built for peo­ple with ear­ly-onset demen­tia, stroke-relat­ed dis­abil­i­ties and somat­ic symp­tom dis­or­ders. The res­i­den­tial build­ings — two pur­pose-built and two con­vert­ed vil­las sur­round­ed by park­land — were linked to a net­work of dif­fer­ent facil­i­ties. To reduce res­i­dents’ iso­la­tion, they are push­ing adapt­ed, mul­ti­func­tion­al and social­ly inte­grat­ed care systems.
  • Replay” from Lis­bon won in the Cir­cu­lar Ecosys­tem sec­tor. Instead of 30 mil­lion plas­tic toys a year end­ing up in land­fills and incin­er­a­tors in Por­tu­gal, toys are col­lect­ed, repaired, donat­ed or at least recycled.

The prizes are a good illus­tra­tion of the scope of the NEB idea. Let’s hope that the sur­pris­ing­ly uncon­ven­tion­al EU ini­tia­tive will achieve its ambi­tious goals despite the cur­rent crises. As soon as possible.

Joachim Goetz
Joachim Goetz (Foto: Ralf Dombrowski)

Joachim Goetz studierte Architek­tur in München und Denver/Colorado mit Fäch­ern wie Kun­st- und Bauhis­to­rie, Skulp­tur, Fotografie, Aquarell, Land­schafts- und Pro­duk­t­gestal­tung. Er arbeit­ete in Architek­tur­büros u. a. bei GMP, gewann Wet­tbe­werbe mit Josef Götz und baute ein Haus mit Thomas Rös­sel und Heinz Franke. Seit 1990 ist er haupt­beru­flich als Autor tätig, war Redak­teur bei Baumeis­ter und Wohn­De­sign. Pub­lika­tio­nen erfol­gten in nationalen und inter­na­tionalen Tages‑, Publikums‑, Kun­st- und Design-Zeitschriften wie SZ, Madame, AIT, Münch­n­er Feuil­leton, AZ oder Design Report. Inter­views ent­standen – etwa mit Ettore Sottsass, Gün­ter Behnisch, Alessan­dro Men­di­ni, Zaha Hadid, James Dyson, Jen­ny Holz­er, Wal­ter Nie­der­mayr oder Daniel Libe­skind. Zudem arbeit­ete er für Unternehmen wie Siedle, Phoenix Design, Hyve. Für Sedus wirk­te er mitver­ant­wortlich an der ersten dig­i­tal­en Architek­turzeitschrift a‑ (1999–2004) sowie an der Kom­pe­tenzzeitschrift „Place2.5“ (2011–2014) mit.
Für bay­ern design und die MCBW ist er immer wieder als Autor tätig. Seine Arbeit wurde von der Bun­de­sar­chitek­tenkam­mer mit einem Medi­en­preis für Architek­tur und Stadt­pla­nung aus­geze­ich­net. Außer­dem berät J. Goetz auch kleinere Unternehmen engagiert in speziellen Design‑, Mar­ket­ing- und aus­ge­fal­l­enen Fragen.