Could the New European Bauhaus inspire the UK?

The UK can no longer participate in the EU’s ambitious new initiative, but perhaps it will inspire the British design community to define its own visions for the future, says Patrick Burgoyne

The original Bauhaus was born out of the twin catastrophes of the First World War and the flu epidemic that followed it. It opened at its original location of Weimar in Germany in 1919 with a commitment to bring together the arts and crafts to design new ways of living for a future, better world.

Now, faced with the two similarly daunting crises of Covid-19 and the climate emergency, the European Commission has announced the launch of a New European Bauhaus, “to design future ways of living, situated at the crossroads between art, culture, social inclusion, science and technology … a collective effort to imagine and build a future that is sustainable, inclusive and beautiful for our minds and for our souls”.

The NEB will run in conjunction with the European Green Deal, a set of policy initiatives that aim to make the EU carbon-neutral by 2050. With a knowing nod to the Modernist dictum that ‘form follows function’, the New Bauhaus asks us to consider instead that ‘form follows planet’. “We want to create a design movement integrating three dimensions: sustainability (including circularity), quality of experience (including aesthetics), and inclusion (including affordability),” its launch material announces. “Creativity is in finding affordable, inclusive and attractive solutions for our climate challenges.”

Invoking the Bauhaus name, with all its connotations of socially aware, forward-thinking, great design for the masses, is an astute piece of positioning

Invoking the Bauhaus name, with all its connotations of socially aware, forward-thinking, great design for the masses, is an astute piece of positioning by the European Commission, which will run the initiative. But it’s also somewhat misleading. The NEB will not be an educational institution; there will be no daringly designed college buildings (like the original Bauhaus in Dessau, above), no students (at least not from what has been announced so far) and, presumably, no crazy fancy dress parties either. Instead, as seems fitting in our socially distanced age, this new Bauhaus will be virtual. It is a project, not a place: “A design lab, accelerator and network at the same time … at the crossroads between art, culture and science.” 

JUNIOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Milton Keynes