Thoughts on a New European Bauhaus
An offering to frame the design process for this new European Union proposition; plotting a course through a minefield, planting seeds for a meadow
Ever since the President of the European Union, Ursula von der Leyen, dropped the idea of a New European Bauhaus into her State of the Union speech on 16th September 2020, I’ve been discussing it with members of the European Commission team working on the proposal. Given how open the proposition was, I immediately started jotting down a few thoughts about the possibility, whilst a conversation opened up with my colleagues Christian Bason (CEO of the Danish Design Centre), Rowan Conway (Head of Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose’s Mission-Oriented Innovation Network and an experienced design professional with whom I lead the Transformation by Design module on IIPP Masters of Public Administration degree) and Mariana Mazzucato (Director of UCL IIPP, and who increasingly requires no introduction.)
From those conversations, I sketched out a document that could be picked up and read by European Commission policymakers and practitioners, few of whom have deep experience of arts and design, yet which would also make sense to experienced artists, designers, educators, curators … It was not easy to write something pitched right down the middle of that broad fairway.
The document is intended to be an offering to the Commission: a set of constructive emphases, but also helpful warnings given the context of the Bauhaus. As I had heard that the starting point for the New Bauhaus conversations were relatively limited to new construction technologies, I felt it should reorientate and open up around some key dynamics: retrofit rather than new-build; care and maintenance; more-than-human-centred design; governance reform; transdisciplinary approaches; participative collaboration; a social and cultural agenda rather than narrow economic or technological one, and so on. Each outlines some notes to hit regarding Europe’s past, present and future possibilities.
Respecting the need for a coherent design process, and from a position of necessary humility given the sheer weight of baggage associated with the name Bauhaus, I didn’t want to make concrete suggestions. I could do so, having worked intensively on many adjacent or relevant projects in the past (innovation campuses and districts for cities, universities, Google etc., as well as running schools like Fabrica, whilst spending many years in and around the orbit of the European Commission’s innovation agenda).
But to do so—to make those concrete suggestions—would negate the heavily participative, inquisitive and open approach I was suggesting. It is not the time. So I hinted at a few directions, and outlined an approach predicated on participation and prototyping, suggesting both a quick start and a long haul.
I was also drawing on Ines Weizman’s excellent collection Dust & Data: Traces of the Bauhaus across 100 Years, as well as reflecting on the equally formative, related, but quite different Ulm School of Design and Black Mountain College, and others. The images I selected reflect voices disenfranchised by the original Bauhaus. My work at Vinnova, with mission-oriented innovation around streets and school food, is drawn in. Other aspects—future architectural practice; strategic design; the role of tech; slowdown themes of care, retrofit, maintenance, biodiversity, politics—are frequent topics here.
Rowan added some brilliantly choice phrases in key places, and underscored the need for a critical edge regarding the latent power of design (themes she’s also bringing powerfully into the MPA.) In conversation and correspondence, Christian and Mariana provided key direction for the piece (the former on the Green Deal being seen as a social and cultural movement as much as an economic or technological agenda, whilst emphasising the progressive nature of many startups; the latter reinforcing mission-oriented innovation, public value economics, and the need for art, design and culture to help powerfully imagine and articulate questions of diversity and conflict.) A lunch with Kieran Long also helped, as usual. By late-October, we had a briefing paper.
I sent it to some key contacts at the Commission, and we’ve had regular discussions since. Subsequently, the Commission has created a site for the New European Bauhaus.
As usual for a project at this point, I’m trying to design beginnings rather than endings. I’m posting the text below to mark it here, but also so I can add links and quotes for further reference. You can find the PDF version I created at the UCL site, but for the link-y version, read on below. To help frame the briefing After the EC published more information about the New European Bauhaus in January 2021, Rowan took the lead on writing a post for UCL IIPP framing the briefing, which I contributed to in return, rallying back and forth. We’re extremely interested in any responses—notes, prompts, iterations—given the crucial point in the project’s design process.
A New European Bauhaus for a Green Deal
We are thrilled by the idea of a New European Bauhaus, as a school of thought and practice for the European Green Deal. We believe that a New Bauhaus can be the generator for a New Europe’s imagination. But the details of which version of the Bauhaus — and how it addresses the missions a New Bauhaus pursues — are crucial.
Getting the scope of the New Bauhaus right is a necessary precondition for retooling Europe’s design capabilities for a mission-oriented Green Deal. We offer the following thoughts to help guide the development of the idea.
They deliberately steer clear of suggesting solutions, as we believe that a project as complex as this requires a coherent design process, starting with a clean canvas. Instead, they describe some of the principles and perspectives that could aid the design process, as a kind of background to help inform a brief, form a team. However, prototyping the New Bauhaus itself, as a project, would enable ideas to emerge in reality very soon, immediately creating waves within months.
We need to address the core ideas implicit within the Bauhaus, retrofitting them for our age and its challenges. For example, we have almost all the technology we need for many versions of a Green Deal, if we see that our core challenges are behavioural, cultural, political, and economic. The most urgent concern our European identities: how we make shared decisions about shared futures, how we use public space to understand public purpose, how we contest and co-create.
This focus on the craft of participation and creative contestation, on purposefully holding uncertainty and ambiguity, fundamentally shakes the idea of a New Bauhaus, as well as the broader context it will sit within.
Yet it does so usefully. If we address these challenges with courage and imagination, with both transdisciplinary expertise and an open participative spirit, then the New Bauhaus is indeed an opportunity for the reinvention of our design, art and architecture practices, capable of driving Europe forward, learning from its past in order to produce for today and tomorrow.
Such an approach would explicitly reveal that questions of technology, built environment, product, material and service are not unrelated to those of culture, identity, governance, but rather they are symbiotically linked: each unlocks the other. Design and architecture, as they concern culture and identity as much as technology and materiality, can play a fundamentally powerful role here, helping transform an avant-garde into a ‘new wave’ of systemic change.
Below, three key angles for a New Bauhaus, each summarising ideas which are expanded upon variously below.
- Imagination of the Green Deal—The New Bauhaus can be the primary European platform for stimulating and sharing our collective imagination, as an endlessly renewable energy to power the European Green Deal. As with the original, the New Bauhaus must be brave and bold, and devised by Europe’s best talent across design, art, architecture, craft and making. These practices work in transdisciplinary modes with other skillsets and perspectives, to ensure that the Green Deal is exerted by missions that engage with social, cultural and political transformation, creatively contesting and constructing shared identities in order to better build shared infrastructures, public spaces for public discourse.
- Delivery of the Green Deal — Create a mission-oriented strategic design agenda in order to articulate new systems, cultures, behaviours, markets and governance models for delivering the European Green Deal. This means inventively framing questions and decisively shaping conditions to ensure that avant-garde can be translated into systemic change. In particular, the New Bauhaus can devise the ‘ground game’ for design-led mission-oriented innovation, oriented around building and maintaining diverse new capabilities and dynamics of repair and retrofit, regenerate and restore, care and culture. This must reinvent and reinvigorate visionary planning as well as super-local engagement.
- Participation in the Green Deal—Reverse the logic of previous eras by ensuring that visionary planning is counterpointed and informed by taking meaningful first steps from ground-up, embracing contextual complexity and uncertainty as well as longer-term strategic arcs. Missions can dynamically build engaged and participative cultures in order to articulate and build the Green Deal. The New Bauhaus can actively prototype complex cultures of public discourse and decision-making. It should engage with existing institutions and places to create a diverse network of centres and shared activities, thus avoiding inadvertent competition in an age that requires deep collaboration.
Creating fertile ground for the Green Deal
We need design, architecture and artful experimentation to help create the conditions necessary for the European Green Deal, including the design and delivery of our institutions, cultures, social infrastructures and natural environments, as much as our technologies, materials and built infrastructures.
Design-led approaches to mission-oriented innovation can be the vehicle for this work, shaping finance, governance and social innovation oriented around public purpose, but this will require a much deeper exchange between the fields of the design and economics. Understanding how to design an economy to be more inclusive and sustainable begins with an understanding of markets as outcomes of design decisions. Mission-oriented innovation therefore needs a new ‘ground game’ in place across Europe that can extend its knowledge to institutional and systemic change. The New Bauhaus can be this intellectual, cultural and practical snowplough, clearing the way for these missions and their rich array of outcomes.
Art is ratified, in the end, by the fact of creativity in all our living. Everything we see and do, the whole structure of our relationships and institutions, depends, finally, on an effort of learning, description and communication … We cannot set ‘art’ on one side of a line and ‘work’ on the other; we cannot submit to be divided into ‘Aesthetic Man’ and ‘Economic Man’.
— Raymond Williams
It can do this in at least three ways. First of all, and most obviously, the imaginative capacity of design, art, and architecture actively creates possible futures. making tangible and motivating the numerous diverse and complex scenarios implicit in the Green Deal. Europe’s skillset here is unparalleled, yet the New Bauhaus can be a new field of lightning rods across Europe, lifting the positioning of the imagination in both decision-making and everyday life.
Secondly, the New Bauhaus can help develop a widespread literacy and toolkit for design, architecture, technology and culture at all levels, creating better clients and collaborators as well as better designers. Design has a responsibility for the conditions it produces within, the ‘dark matter’ of organisational culture, policy and regulation, procurement logics, evaluation models, societal value and values. This is a challenge requiring an almost avant-garde spirit vis-à-vis bureaucracy itself.
Thirdly, the New Bauhaus can help re-work the cultures that shape public life, such that our public and civic institutions are capable of equitably delivering resilient, healthy, vibrant and culturally rich technologies, infrastructures, cultures and places. Accessing art and design’s capacity for purposefully holding ambiguity and uncertainty will be key to ensuring that we do not shirk from complexity and contestation, but that we embrace it.
Design, art and architecture have fundamental roles to play here. They produce new ways of seeing and doing, which in turn inform and invent new cultural and political practices. A new emphasis on deep collaboration and dynamic evaluation, necessary at the core of these new practices, can draw deeply from architecture and design expertise in this regard.
The act of prototyping — of creating tangible experiences within everyday life, in order to simultaneously provoke discussion, derive insights, and shape the directions of possible futures — is fundamental to design and architecture practice, yet still rarely used more broadly in public life. The New Bauhaus can be the prototyping engine for almost any aspect of the Green Deal, enabling participation in far richer and more inventive subsequent outcomes from this ‘New Wave’.
Do not define today. Define backward and forward, spatial and many-sided. A defined today is over and done for.
— Paul Klee
These forms of strategic design and architecture focused on systemic change for ‘big picture’ challenges, aligned around public purpose and societal value, are immersed within the richer palettes of related artistic and cultural practices. Any such new design education and research needs to capture this diversity and range — just as it needs to have ready access to forward-thinking forms of economics, public policy, organisational change theory and practice, psychology and sociology, science and engineering, history and humanities.
With these participative and transdisciplinary approaches as a keystone, aimed at and articulated by new missions for Europe, a New Bauhaus can not only provoke the imagination, but help design and deliver the pathways for equitable, ethical and effective transformation.
Creating a new approach to old: renew, repair and rebuild
Given that much of Europe is already built, the New Bauhaus must fully embrace the recent and burgeoning interest in a design focused on care and culture as much as form and function, reversing the 20th century’s extractive modes by working with retrofit, repair, restoration, and regeneration.
Although a wide-ranging proposition, the Bauhaus’s legacy was arguably most profound and impactful within architecture, urban planning and construction. Now, however, much of Europe has been built. The 20th century was a story of building anew, pouring concrete to construct a way out of poverty, or to conjure new towns and cities from wartime ruins or developmental false steps. As a result, for many European countries, 80 per cent of the buildings of 2050 have already been built, and some 97 per cent of these existing European buildings will need to be renovated.
We are surrounded by these buildings and infrastructures, home to both embodied carbon and embedded histories. A design and architecture for this problem requires a quite different sensibility. It implies a refining in place, understanding repair and retrofit cultures, developing new logics predicated on care and maintenance, on true collaboration and participation with diverse cultures and behaviours, and on building anew only where necessary and desirable. It means circular practices that produce net positive social and environmental outcomes. It means deep, ongoing engagement from within our communities and their civic and cultural context. It means new missions that ‘crowd in’ start-ups alongside community groups, industrial players and municipalities, the various pasts and futures of a place, its culture and its economy combined.
The Bauhaus, at least under Walter Gropius, sought to produce a generation of designers who could create a society of consumers in step with modernity — who understood it not only as an aesthetic but also a political phenomenon
— Alina Payne
These approaches, in line with the EU Recovery Strategy, necessitate new ways of unleashing the societal value latent in people and place. Producing anew in this way is far more challenging than simply making new things — although new things will emerge. It requires a far deeper understanding of our systems of ecology and community. As opposed to the tabula rasa approach of the initial Bauhaus, this is actually a more complex yet engaging mission, recognising the true diversity of Europe, re-working it from within.
It’s one thing to take a space, it’s another thing to turn a space into something functional that actually serves the community.
— Nikkita Oliver
There are still long-term visionary plans to make, and to do. Yet they must be tightly coupled with this ground game of deep participation. Planning itself is not old-fashioned per se; plans can be thrilling, visionary and motivating — they remain fundamentally necessary. They embody what we stand for as a society, just as a piazza or a library, a city hall or a city market does. But there is huge value in reinventing planning, using design, art and architecture’s capability with conjuring experience, making tangible our possible futures and their implications, and drawing rich insights from the complexities and contestations of place.
The original Bauhaus was initiated, populated, and driven by the very best in their various fields in Europe at that point, working explicitly as an avant-garde. We cannot use the same playbook — nor would we wish to, given the context of Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. Yet it is of fundamental importance that the conception of a New Bauhaus must engage with the equivalent of that focus on expertise, craft, quality and detail, retooled for an age predicated on participation and complex adaptive systems, rather than the sweeping ‘top-down’ over-writing impulses implicit within modernity. This also means an engagement with making across all practices, connecting with meaningful futures for vocational trades and crafts as much as service designers and software engineers.
Yet such a design team must be infused with the agenda described earlier. A New Bauhaus must focus on authentically drawing citizens into the creative process, creating the conditions for participatory design. A reimagined concept of the “Just Transition” must come from civic voices who are also positioned at the table, ex-ante not just ex-post the real question-framing and decision-making. With these elements in place, a New Bauhaus can be the leading edge of this new wave.
Creating a New Bauhaus from the Old
The original Bauhaus shaped the 20th century, influencing not only the way that Europe was built, and re-built, but also the rest of the world, through its diaspora of alumni and vivid trailblazing work. As arguably the single-most influential design and architecture institution, it stands for a visionary spirit, a lighthouse shining in otherwise dark times, based on a transdisciplinary and exploratory fluidity of thought and practice. As we stand teetering on the edge of transformational times, albeit of a very different nature, the chance to reinvent the Bauhaus to deliver a European Green Deal is not only exciting but absolutely necessary.
Yet a reinvention of its practices, of its positioning, is also necessary. As Ines Weizman made clear in Dust & Data: Traces of the Bauhaus Across 100 Years, the original Bauhaus benefited from, but silenced, the perspectives of marginalised, dislocated, and dispersed voices. Moreover, its output was woefully misapplied as much as applied well, due to a narrow reading of design, art and architecture rarely considering the context of its work. Without creating strong clients, collaborators and civil advocates for its ideas, the Bauhaus often inadvertently reinforced poor city-making and building, or industrial and graphic design that generated wasteful consumerism. For every Bauhaus-inspired masterpiece there is an equal and opposite Bauhaus-inspired disaster.
Victor Papanek opened his Design for the Real World (1971) with the memorable line, “There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a few,” pointing a finger at the Bauhaus as “a non-adaptive mutation in design”.
In these senses — the disappearing of diversity, the careless ignorance of impact, the top-down hierarchies of maestri — it was of course a product of its time, albeit perhaps the most high profile. Its history means that any such new Bauhaus must forge a distinctly new form by reconciling with its past.
In a sense, the Bauhaus must be approached as if the white cubes at Dessau stand for blank voids, ready to be filled with vibrant, novel colour. Further, what if such cloistered academies are flipped inside-out, thrown into Europe’s arenas and agoras, via public spaces for contestation and debate, for assembly and antagonistics as much as consensus and co-creation, for public display and pointed discourse rather than mere technical showcase? The project cannot be allowed to become the cul-de-sac of yet another innovation showcase — it must be a visceral experience.
Indeed the core of Europe’s new missions must be predicated on deeply participative practices. There is an emerging understanding that shared, diverse and thriving cultures and identities are not only as important as choices about carbon, broader environmental and public health, or material and technology, but that these aspects are intrinsically linked, each a potential answer to the other. These things are indivisible and interdependent. They cannot be addressed as mutually exclusive zero-sum games or neatly placed in priority order. Rather they are essential aspects of a whole.
Academies make a grave mistake by neglecting of the formation of the human being. Bauhaus is ‘building’ something quite different from what was planned: human beings.
— Oskar Schlemmer
Yet our key institutions have become dominated by technical silos, with sensibilities framed around cost rather than value, mundane efficiency over quality. The Green Deal deserves better capabilities than this. It cannot simply be derived from roadmaps. As we better understand complex adaptive systems, we better understand that Europe itself is contested, ambiguous, and uncertain. These are precisely the conditions that transdisciplinary creative practice thrives within. The divergent thinking of artists can help continually reimagine and refresh our futures, requiring us to sometimes dwell in the messy unknown. We need spaces, physical and digital, built and imagined, in which we can safely disagree in public, in which we can pursue uncertainty fruitfully. If the transdisciplinary spirit of the original Bauhaus can be revived yet reinvented, the playbooks for Europe’s new missions can draw deeply from contemporary creative practice, embodied in a New Bauhaus.
Creating ways of seeing new missions
Design is implicit within the way that these new missions will be conceived, imagined, produced and delivered. Making this practice explicit makes the case for a New Bauhaus as the engine of any such European Green Deal.
We have little choice but to create a New Bauhaus, or its equivalent. The missions inherent within the Green Deal cannot be delivered by the existing institutions, whether government or academy, private sector or third sector. The missions imply systemic, behavioural and cultural change, which is a condition rarely produced by existing elements simply deciding to spontaneously evolve. Those same tools that created an extractive society are hardly likely to suddenly produce a restorative one.
Systems do not get unstuck — they learn.
— Nora Bateson
So the Green Deal can be built upon an extensive array of interlinked missions, each of which would be bold, inspirational, with wide societal relevance, and in sum, add up to systemic change for inclusive growth, building new capabilities and competencies for Europe. Such missions indicate a clear direction, describing a constellation of ‘north stars’, taking compass readings via dynamic evaluation. They are delivered by multiple ambitious and diverse top-down and bottom-up activities, and co-created via participative cross-disciplinary, cross-sectoral and multi-level relationships. They must sweep across technology and governance, ecology and economics, creating new markets, new cultures.
Just as the original Bauhaus captured the latent potential of its time, with its own potent brew of culture, technology, politics and society, the New Bauhaus must do likewise, addressing the challenge of today and tomorrow by pivoting from its past, co-creating Europe’s new infrastructures of everyday life, its public spaces and services, the circular and sustainable technologies of its diverse private and third sector. Our collective work, across UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, Danish Design Centre and Vinnova, amongst other relationships, is publicly describing how design-led approaches to mission-oriented innovation can plot a productive trajectory through these complex waters.
It is a project framed around people and environment, and so it concerns complex relational aspects over and above purely compartmentalised technical questions. It must concern profound cultural change, which implies a way of accessing and enabling the people, place, and politics as well as technology and technique. The design of the way we make decisions, and the cultures and values they speak to, is also on the drawing board here. The blueprints must describe new institutions and markets, framed around interlinked systems, assemblages and relationships, rather than silos and sectors.
An artful approach to mission-oriented innovation must begin with the reimagining the future — and to do this, public institutions need license to dream. Art, and culture more generally, co-creates new ways of seeing, of reflecting, of conjuring and experiencing this “dream-space”. Culture creates sketches and soliloquies, scaffolding and spaces for new mental models, different relationships, possible worlds. Design is about decision-making, playing the grounding role of practical application. It addresses the conditions that makes things happen — or not — and can provide a way of re-shaping cultures of decision-making, at all scales. Such cultural production articulates what sustainable equitable growth can be, what values are generated within the new economics required of a profound rebalancing of human and non-human nature.
This is not an engineering problem. And it is only a technology problem if that is framed by a broader conception of what technology is and how it can be brought to bear as part of Europe’s New Wave. The Green Deal is a question of the imagination of Europe. This, indeed, requires a new school of thought and practice.
Creating a new European techne for a new context
These new missions, and the practices that make them happen, go well beyond simple questions of technology, engineering and materials.
Our more fundamental questions actually concern politics, culture, behaviour, value. Such questions are not technical — ‘Should this roof be made of slate or nanocellulose?’ — but they are instead ‘What is a house?’, ‘What is living in an intergenerational and just community?’, ‘Who decides?’, ‘What does it mean to live with circular products and services?’, ‘What kind of value, and values, are generated by these new patterns of living?’, ‘What does owning this roof, or this house, mean?’, ‘What does this way of living stand for? What are the politics of this place?’, ‘Is this way of living meaningful, beautiful, equitable?’
Having considered these, we can talk nanocellulose.
Technology is the answer. But what was the question?
— Cedric Price
Only questions like this can unlock truly rich and deep forms of value. These are design questions too, but of a very different kind to those generally posed by our existing design and technology institutions, just as they are rarely asked by our cultures of shared decision-making in governance.
Yet technology is our most profound core constituent and modifier of our infrastructures of everyday life, and the paradigms they sit within. As technologies change, so our mental models are shifting planes, skidding around each other as new configurations become possible.
The word technology, in a European context at least, is derived from Ancient Greek concept of ‘techne’, an artful craftiness or ingenuity, making and doing. That is a broad church. Yet it too quickly becomes reduced to solutionism, easy answers stumbling awkwardly into complex problems.
All our inventions, from pencils to libraries to streets to clothes, are technologies as much as they are artefacts of design. The new Bauhaus must stand for this richer conception of technology. For example, the alignment of nature-based technologies and infrastructures with new materials and new code will require quite different conceptions of societal and natural value, care and ownership. Similarly, the lines of code that constitution regulation are increasingly capable of being accessed by design, via ‘policy labs’ and public policy prototypes and equivalent. Our everyday experience is framed by digital technologies that fundamentally change our relationships with each other, with economy and governance, with nature and environment; each of these systems and platforms is the product of advanced design disciplines. Technology is culture, as much as it is science and engineering.
Experiential prototypes, in our public spaces and places, can help us understand the complexity inherent in our decisions. By designing, building and running a network of participative and performative places and prototypes across Europe, a New Bauhaus can not only help co-create meaningful choices about the infrastructure of everyday life, but unmoor tech from its extractive sensibilities — extractive from place, culture, and environment — often imported from cultures outside of a European sensibility. We must rework the dynamics and potential of tech for the context of a European Green Deal. Whether for machine learning or algae, music streaming or e-bikes, this is best done through tangible experience. Our shared identity, as an impossibly diverse and densely layered palimpsest of complex histories somehow unified by an idea of Europe, is our single biggest asset. What might these everyday infrastructures, technologies, and landscapes feel like when framed by that lens?
Technological critique is the articulation of urgent socio-political questions made real in things. Things-to-think- with, which is not just for the gallery viewer. They’re public technologies with high stakes attached.
— Sara Hendren
Producing a vivid sense of this new European techne, and the diverse conditions and contexts for understanding and wielding it, by taking it to the streets, could be a foundational layer of the New Bauhaus.
Creating a New Bauhaus by retrofitting existing networks
All these principles require different mental models, renovating not simply the Overton Window but the entire house.
For instance, we find the careless efficiency logics of the smart city movement wanting, led merely by technology vendors rather than broad demand or desire, or clear societal outcomes or public purpose — or even a wider recognition that cities are simply not about efficiency. Yet we see immense promise in technology’s ability to power the new wave, and recognise the value in the many European tech startups intrinsically driven by public purpose, just as much as our government tech teams and social innovators are. In this case, the questions of urban technology are in the details, dependent on culture and value. Those are typically design decisions, with mental models framed by the ‘stage minus one’ of What? and Why?
Mental models are often forged at school. In the 1920s, a new Bauhaus could claim entirely new territory here. Design education barely existed. Architecture schools had not significantly shifted their practice beyond Palladio. Today, Europe’s design and architecture schools are amongst the best in the world. They may need to raise their sights to the challenge of a new deal for what would effectively be a new continent — absolutely — but working with them affords another variation on refine and retrofit. Without asking the question of what a New Bauhaus means for existing institutions, we might inadvertently create competition in an age that requires deep collaboration.
Practically-speaking, it may be that the Bauhaus can be both a series of distinct nodes in a network, and a more fluid school of thought and practice that can be deployed within associated existing institutions, helping lift entire sectors rather than simply making a few new places.
The Bauhaus attracted people drawn to the promise of experimentation and conviviality with a group of the most modern artists and architects, as well as those who simply arrived because there was was no other place for them. The desire of the Bauhäusler to create a new world might have been because everything they were taught to know, along with the value system they’d inherited, was liquefying.
— Ines Weizman
For example, the Masters of Public Administration running at UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP) places strategic design in the context of public policy, and particularly European missions. IIPP counterpoints this education with applied research and engaged projects with governments, NGOs, and community groups. All these activities combine to produce a raft of new actors, capable of understanding the potential and limits of design, tech, and cultural production. Related discussions about new forms of design and technology education are taking place with Design Academy Eindhoven, AHO in Oslo, Aalto University in Helsinki, KTH in Stockholm, The Royal Academy and CBS in Copenhagen, the European School of Administration in Brussels, and many others.
The Swedish government’s approach to mission-oriented innovation, explicitly framed as a design process by Vinnova, provides a related sketch of what this work looks like. This continues to engage the Horizon Europe process for mission-oriented innovation, as well as JRC Policy Lab.
These missions are part-delivered via the Swedish national centre for architecture and design, ArkDes, a public space for cultural expression and discourse about public life. Similarly, the Danish Design Centre (DDC) is developing a shared perspective on mission-oriented innovation, within a context of shaping resilient private, public and social sectors. The Centre is part of the BLOX building innovation ecosystem, leveraging the design, architecture and construction sector to co-create sustainable urban futures, from circular products to next-generation craft.
The IIPP, DDC/BLOX and Vinnova/ArkDes models are just a few examples that begin to illustrate the potential of Bauhaus as a network of public places and practices, connecting art, design, architecture and technology with culture, commerce with community, within spaces built for contestation as well as conviviality, providing some of the fertile soil the New Bauhaus will need.
Creating small islands of coherence for large systemic change
Learning from these precursors, and adopting and adapting across Europe via cohorts of local missions, would help produce a continent-wide community of practitioners, engaged and emboldened by the New Bauhaus, with which we might shift entire systems towards inclusive growth, public purpose and richer, more diverse forms of value.
Working with, and nurturing, the brightest and best talent within European design, art, architecture, craft and technology would ensure that the New Bauhaus has the transformative potential its mission requires.
Building agile, engaged, and deeply participative relationships with context, counterpointed by visionary long-term thinking and planning, would prevent an elitist, siloed or out-of-touch technical project. Instead, working from the street up, within the wonderfully contested, uncertain, complex ambiguities of public life, would not only set free the latent potential of our peoples and places, but more creatively and effectively locate technology and institution within everyday life.
I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
— Rainer Maria Rilke
The highly collaborative approach to mission-oriented innovation provides a way of combining these angles, powerfully colliding public, private and third sector into shared initiatives, capable of addressing systems as they are in reality.
By creating places, environments and experiences for contestation as well as consensus, for prototyping and participation, the New Bauhaus can provoke and prompt Europe’s imagination of the Green Deal, as a social, cultural, economic and political act as well as a technological one. Through visceral, meaningful experience, it must address questions of value, purpose and societal outcome, and not simply material and construction. Yet one leads to the other. We build better, quicker, and more equitably, producing greater value and new values, once we approach questions holistically, inventively, and in collaboration.
This means conjuring and holding questions aloft in the air, for public display and discourse, before collectively sketching out the possible futures they suggest. By ‘living the questions’ in this way, the New Bauhaus can produce tangible experience in order to more meaningfully engage all Europeans in our collective futures.
Finally, prototyping the New Bauhaus itself, as a project, would enable ideas to emerge in reality very soon, immediately creating waves within months. Using the principles and practices of design and architecture is a sure-fire way to move quickly, practically, and in highly tangible ways.
The systems theorist Ilya Prigogine once said, “In an unstable complex system, small islands of coherence have the potential to change the whole system.”
The New Bauhaus itself may be articulated as a few jewel-like small islands, perhaps, each a new entrepôt within an existing sea of European expertise, talent, and culture. Yet given its potency as an idea, it can indeed help imagine a new continent, a Green Deal for another green world.
Briefing paper written by Dan Hill, with Christian Bason, Rowan Conway, Mariana Mazzucato (November 2020). See also this piece by Rowan Conway and Dan Hill at UCL IIPP blog: