Issue 16 — Partnership

A bit of everything

“New European Bauhaus”: dynamism anticipated, understanding sought

Photos by New European Bauhaus Words by Jörg Zimmermann

Wow! Brussels goes showtime. The presenting duo provide an easy flow of chat as they go through the competition categories. A chirpy jingle, “and the winner is …” The certificates are presented alternately by EU commissioners Iliana Ivanova and Elisa Ferreira, followed by brief speeches of thanks from the winners and an official photo before they depart the stage. The New European Bauhaus awards ceremony delivers flawlessly staged images. Who would dream of questioning its aspirations, its objective and its impact?


The New European Bauhaus (NEB) was personally introduced by Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU Commission, in 2020. The current guide to the movement describes the NEB as “a creative and transdisciplinary initiative that connects the European Green Deal to our living spaces and experiences”, and continues, “The New European Bauhaus initiative calls on all Europeans to imagine and build together a sustainable and inclusive future that is beautiful for our eyes, minds, and souls.” A beautifully open-ended and noncommittal statement.

The term “New European Bauhaus” can quickly set off a chain of misleading associations. In the 1920s the Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar promulgated a philosophy seeking to unify fine art, crafts and industrial design — a thoroughly avant-garde approach at the time. The forms of expression it took in design and architecture have long since passed into the design canon as standard references. Perhaps the NEB’s initiators in Brussels held the — unfulfilled — hope of benefiting from the enduring relevance of those twentieth-century design pioneers. The outcome, however, is more damp political squib than firecracker of inspiration.


This year’s NEB spectacle in Brussels had the feel of a one-off. Just one out of many initiatives in the political sphere, lacking any real connection to daily life, very far from being on the public radar in the member states and leaving no relevant traces in design and architectural debate. Asked for comment, well-established designers and architects are reticent, their reactions ranging from a shrug to a dismissive wave of the hand. Four years after the launch of the NEB, the initiative seems to attract little attention from either its associated professions or the general public.


In the NEB’s favour, since its inception it has attracted a total of around 4500 submissions to its competitions. But should quantity really be the deciding factor in judging the initiative? A glance at the quality of the winning projects reveals the dilemmas involved: The award winners are too different to allow them to be reliably classified into any wider, generally understandable context beyond the individual categories headlining the competitions. As a result, the “Re-Sourcing Commons” project by the Social Design course at University of Applied Arts Vienna jostles with the research proposition “Cultivating Companionship”, which seeks to foster dialogue between humans and nature in the rural Lower Saxony community of Bersenbrück, and a project to establish nature studies at a nature reserve in Romania as part of the “URBFORDAN” initiative. But the criteria on which the selections were made are vague, and — an absolute no-no — the members of the jury are not even named. All in all, a bit of everything and a lot of nothing.

1 — Re-Sourcing Commons, Vienna
2 — Cultivating Companionship, Bersenbrück/Lower Saxony
3 — URBFORDAN, Romania

Yet the budget assigned to the initiative is no chicken feed. The prizes awarded in the 2024 competition ranged from EUR 10,000 to EUR 30,000 per submission, depending on the category and the winning place. This year also featured a special category for projects from Ukraine. In total, prize money of EUR 390,000 was awarded to 20 winners. Not forgetting the additional funds required for organising and presenting the competition, the costs of the accompanying festival — which proved to be only a modest draw — and various other expenses.


The point and, above all, the impact of the New European Bauhaus remain unclear. While the idea of bringing in the NEB initiative as an extension of the “Green Deal” was basically a good one, it remains superficial, hampered by its focus on media exploitation. A more readily accessible framework founded on clear-cut content would likely be a more effective amplifier of ideas than a seemingly almost random distribution of funds. Not until contexts become understandable, connections become identifiable and categories become plausible can a dynamic movement towards the “Green Deal” arise, and alongside it the opportunity to create a lastingly effective and comprehensive picture.