The Bauhaus comes full circle: environmentally friendly structures in a resource-efficient economy
A lot of things are thrown away in the world of invention, innovation, and design, but not much. And, in today’s ideas-hungry world, the accomplishments of decades past are all ripe for reimagining and redefinition.
So it is with the Bauhaus movement, that ultra-cool movement founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar, Germany, in 1919, and re-imagined a century later by the European Union as the New European Bauhaus movement (NEB).
The original Bauhaus aimed to bring together emerging mass production and industrial methods with artistic individualism in order to achieve a harmonious whole. Architecture, art, industrial design, and interior design were all included. It demonstrated that function, form, and aesthetics could, and should, coexist harmoniously.
Modern architecture does, however, incorporate one innovation that the Bauhaus Mark I did not include: circularity, which refers to the necessity of continual recycling of buildings and construction materials in order to virtually eliminate waste and reduce the need for new resources.
“Each movement has its own distinctive look and feel. The NEB concept was launched in September 2020 by European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen, who stated, “We need to give our systemic change its own distinct aesthetic – to match style with sustainability.”
She made a direct connection between the concept and NextGenerationEU, the European Union’s post-pandemic recovery plan, which is frequently referred to as ‘building back better.’ However, in the context of the Commission’s strategic approach to Europe’s long-term future, the phrase ‘building back greener and more circular’ might be a more appropriate phrase to describe the process. And the National Energy Board is at the heart of this approach.
As our climate continues to warm, the case for sustainability in resource-intensive industries such as construction becomes increasingly compelling. In accordance with the European project HOUSEFUL, construction and buildings consume 50% of the EU’s resource consumption, generate 46% of the EU’s waste, and are responsible for 40% of the EU’s carbon emissions.
Aiming to develop comprehensive solutions for the circular management and efficient use of water, waste, energy, and material resources throughout the lifecycle of Europe’s housing, both old and new, this project is currently recruiting participants from around the world. Furthermore, the emergence of NEB as a standard-bearer for European innovation in the way we live and work in the twenty-first century has presented new opportunities, as well as new challenges, for the organization.
Sorcha Edwards from Housing Europe, a partner organization in both HOUSEFUL and the New European Bauhaus, describes Von Der Leyen’s unveiling speech and its emphasis on style and substance as “we felt as though she had read our minds.”
The National Engineering Board also seeks to address broader societal issues associated with our built environment, while advocating for social cohesion. It believes that the combination of creativity and greening is essential in building stronger communities and improving the overall quality of life.
It was partly about harnessing design and material innovation, as well as bringing in the cultural sector to improve people’s lives and make the dream of having a decent home more accessible to more people,” Edwards explains. The original Bauhaus was founded in Weimar, Germany, in 1919. “From this perspective, it would be difficult to imagine a New European Bauhaus that does not confront the realities of ‘just how we really are living together,'” says the author.
One other obvious driver of change – and one that is at the heart of the NEB’s approach – is the immediacy of the global climate emergency. “The EU’s climate goals are massive, and the housing sector, specifically the building sector, is currently one of the largest emitters of carbon dioxide,” Edwards explains. “As a result, we will incorporate carbon storage into buildings in a variety of ways, using biological materials such as wood, hemp, hay, or wool as insulation,” she says. “The green transition in housing and construction will open new markets for all of these bio-based building material producers,” she adds.
Making climate action a central part of the New European Bauhaus, according to Johannes Kissler of Alchemia-nova in Austria, another project partner and a consultancy that researches concepts and technologies that use renewable, degradable, or entirely recyclable building components and systems, is one of the most important challenges for the New European Bauhaus.
In addition, one of the advantages of the New European Bauhaus is that it takes a very holistic approach to design. According to Kisser, “They want to bring in people who are experts in their fields, whether they are researchers, developers, or cutting-edge sustainability experts.”
Als Alchemia-nova submitted a submission to the NEB, which asked for examples of “beautiful, sustainable, and inclusive ways of living” to help refine its focus, the submission highlighted HOUSEFUL’s integrated circularity solutions.”
“We operate on the basis of three principles: circularity, nature-basedity, and participatoryness. “I believe that if we follow these fundamental principles, we will be able to manage quite well,” Kisser says. “This New European Bauhaus is like a social design,” says the author. “Social design and social inclusion are becoming increasingly prominent.”
Following years of devastation caused by World War I, the Bauhaus movement spoke boldly and optimistically of a brave new world during the 1920s. The New European Bauhaus has the same optimistic goal as Europe as it strives to solidify the post-pandemic recovery and strengthen resilience in the face of adversity.
And it shares the same belief in Europe’s ability to advance cultural and social progress through the beautification of the built environment, which is now driven by the obligation – as well as the opportunity – to make sustainability and circularity the driving force behind this renewal.