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The New European Bauhaus is not here to uproot the past but to re-adapt it

The New European Bauhaus is not here to uproot the past but to re-adapt it

That was one of the main threads that united the presentations at the #EURegionsWeek workshop

In the afternoon of 12 October, a digital workshop on the role of the New European Bauhaus in the transformation of cities took place as part of the European Week of Regions and Cities. What practically all participants in it agreed upon was the idea that this new initiative was not meant to uproot our urban landscapes as we know them and start on a clean slate. It was, rather, meant to inspire stronger involvement from the people who would be most affected by the reorganization of the public space – the residents.

Called “Sustainable, inclusive and beautiful urban areas – how can the New European Bauhaus boost the holistic green transition?” it featured civil servants, politicians, architects and young people from the cities of Weimar (Germany), Turku (Finland), Eindhoven and Groningen (the Netherlands), and Stavanger (Norway).

Beauty, Nature, Green areas: keywords that kept popping up

Representatives from the various cities got together to present a slice of what the New European Bauhaus could all be about. Given the little time, they could of course only scratch the surface of possibilities.

The first presenter was Daniela Zupan, a researcher from the Bauhaus University in Weimar. She was there to draw parallels between the original design movement, which was born out of the crisis in the post-World War I climate and our current challenges – this time social, sanitary and environmental, but pressing, nonetheless. In her opinion, however, we had to be careful to avoid the urge of modernism.

The New European Bauhaus should not necessarily fall into the trap of ‘out with old, in with the new’ thinking as it could easily take us into never-ending cycles of constant reinvention at the expense of our roots and heritage.

Ms Zupan proposed practicality instead - the things that address the issues of daily life. She was of the opinion that we could start thinking differently about our existing building stock and perceive structures in new ways.

For example, 40% of emissions are generated by the construction industry, and that also includes the demolition of old buildings. So, a wholesale re-construction would not necessarily be a sustainable approach.

Timo Hintsanen, an urban planning director at the City of Turku, agreed in that respect with the above points. As an example, he talked about the suburban districts in his city. Built mostly between the 1950s and 1980s, they are still functional and durable (sure to meet future housing demands), but the problem is that they are not very attractive.

What the city administration is doing there is to learn to involve the local residents. That is perhaps something new and in the process of being figured out, since up until now urban planning had been seen as a top-bottom imposed activity, but Mr Hintsanen reported that rejuvenation is already happening in such districts.

Our living spaces: new perspectives

We cannot overlook the fact that the COVID pandemic made people reconsider their residential areas. They became more critical and more mindful of these spaces – forced to isolate, work and shop from home, made us also avert our gaze and finally ‘notice’ where we live.

Apart from Turku, there was another example that came from a Nordic country – this time from the city of Stavanger in Norway. Randi Augenstein, an architect, presented the Vindmøllebakken co-living project, which counts with its own catchy motto: ‘Gaining by Sharing’.

For starters, it’s a housing complex made entirely out of timber, which makes it not only sustainable but also keeps in line with the heritage building stock in the city. Reportedly, Stavanger is one of the European cities that has the most preserved wooden houses – quite a feat in the 21st century.

Its design has been implemented in a way that fuses private and public living spaces with a view towards creating a community of residents. The general living and leisure areas are spacious, bright, comfortable and inviting and they let residents get involved in common activities, such as gardening, organizing events or dinners. Rather than have an external party manage the housing complex this task is left to the residents themselves.

The project was completed in 2019 but in a sense, it couldn’t have been better timed given that the coronavirus pandemic struck the following year. In the words of Randi Augenstein, living in that space helped residents overcome the trials of isolation much better. As she put it, that is “architecture that fights loneliness”.

NEB calls on to cities to get more active

Stavanger’s example may seem surprising to some, given that Norway is not a member of the European Union, however, on 24 September this year, the European Commission announced that Iceland and Norway are now Associate States to the Horizon Europe program. That means that they can apply for funding under the same conditions as EU member states.

Vera Winthagen (Joint Research Centre) and Laura Hetel (DG RTD) spoke as representatives for the New European Bauhaus. And they assured some of the UK workshop participants that once a deal has been formalized between the UK and the EU, the same conditions would also be available to the bloc’s former member.

They also explained that cities can contribute in three ways to the initiative: by applying for one of the 24 calls, by joining a community in a Lab (becoming a sponsor or a host to specific processes) or by participating in the NEB Festival scheduled to take place in the spring of next year.

The New European Bauhaus is meant to add a significant contribution to one of the EU Missions, namely the one aiming to achieve 100 Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities by 2030. In that regard, Laura Hetel addressed participants’ queries by writing in the comments section:

For the Cities Mission, we will open a call for expression of interest addressed to cities in mid-November. The cities will fill in a questionnaire detailing their climate action baseline, the level and makeup of the local support for climate action, as well as their vision and commitments for 2030.

Once accepted into the mission, the cities will work with the Mission Platform (netzerocities.eu, just launched on 1 October), to develop the Climate City Contract and start implementing it.

Think of the lighthouse demonstrators as a preview of what "could be". While we know we will not be able to fund demonstrators in 100 cities, we think that it is important to provide inspiring examples that can spur action.

We hope that the demonstrators will inspire action and trigger additional funding for NEB projects at EU level, but also national, regional and local levels.”

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