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First day of NEB Conference emphasized by non-elitism rhetoric

First day of NEB Conference emphasized by non-elitism rhetoric

The goal is to inspire a grassroots movement, it remains to be seen if this will be the case

Yesterday saw the start of the first of a two-day conference organized by the European Commission with the aim of popularizing the New European Bauhaus initiative. This conference was the first chance for the experts of the initiative’s roundtable (the so-called community ambassadors) to publicly get together and present their views.

The EU wants to drive home a strong message of inclusivity with the NEB

One of the first discussion panels, for example, was called ‘Placeship European Bauhaus: A Journey to the Future’ and it featured Cohesion Commissioner Elisa Ferreira, MEP Marcos Ros Sempere and 3 of the roundtable experts, who work in architecture and design.

Commissioner Ferreira stressed how the goal of NEB is to translate the macro-objectives of the EU to the everyday realities, concerns and practicalities of the citizens. The aim is to create a beautiful and sustainable way of living, and not an elite programme. It asks the question of what we can all learn from each other and asks it to everyone in the world, not just in Europe.

And speaking of global participation, one of the guests and NEB ambassador at the panel was Shigeru Ban (from Japan), considered to be one of the most prominent and innovative architects living and working today. He pointed out that 40% of CO2 is created by the construction industry so there is an urgent need to change materials and reduce steel and concrete as much as possible. He gave interesting (some may consider them even radical) examples and ideas, such as using bamboo-enforced concrete in place of steel and using non-skilled people in order to create more affordable buildings.

His overall message was that societies needed to look back into history and vernacular knowledge for inspiration, considering that pre-industrial societies lived more sustainable lives. He was also adamant that the NEB should not be all about architecture but rather about education.

What is the NEB all about?

That is the question that the panel participants tried to answer. The resounding feeling was that this is an initiative that aims to inspire a grassroots movement and to hear the voices from below, the citizens and not the ‘usual suspects’. This was deemed necessary so that the initiative would not be branded just another EU top-down process.

And it should not only be understood in terms of architecture, either. It can be applied on all scales from furniture and interior design to buildings, districts, cities and rural areas – to requalify how we understand public space. The idea is to involve all dimensions and all sectors of society and not just certain elements.

Ferreira drew parallels between NEB and the creation of the EU itself as a collective effort and organization to respond to a crisis and reinvent society. The new crises are environmental, social exclusion across the board call for reevaluation of our way of thinking. This change of mentality should be accompanied by a change of culture drawn from a multitude of voices.

She added that co-designing means not always being sure where the final destination is - it is a work in process. To an extent, that explains the way the planners have evaded putting the initiative in concrete standards as this would potentially sap out the innovative spirit and scare away inspiration.

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