Buildings that fit with the philosophy of the New European Bauhaus must offer more than just high energy efficiency. They must also be inclusive in the sense that everyone can afford them, and provide wellbeing to the people who live in them, says Marcos Ros Sempere.
Marcos Ros Sempere is a Spanish EU lawmaker belonging to the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) group. He recently co-authored a report on the New European Bauhaus for the European Parliament.
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If you had to tell apart a building constructed following the principles of the New European Bauhaus from the outside without going in, what would you single out?
The European Bauhaus is a different way of understanding our buildings but also our built environment, our public spaces, our cities, our neighbourhoods.
And we have to take into consideration three aspects. First, we need sustainable buildings, cities or neighbourhoods. But we also need beautiful buildings and cities.
So what does it mean to be beautiful? Beauty means that a building fits to our needs, that our building offers good quality construction, built quality, spaces quality. Beauty is a very wide concept, in which we introduced a lot of things but which means that we have a good quality of life inside these buildings.
And, of course, we need togetherness, we need inclusion, which is the third pillar of the New European Bauhaus.
If we are talking about an energy efficient building, no problem, we have several means of building a passive house. Buildings can be beautiful and very high quality.
But if it is not an inclusive building, it won’t be a New European Bauhaus house, it will be a good energy project, a good beauty project, but not a European Bauhaus project.
Inclusive means that everyone can afford this kind of building. We are going to invest millions of euros to refurbish the buildings in the European Union, to raise them to energy standards that we demand now.
The money has to go to the buildings in which people live that need it more, who suffer from energy poverty, and not to go to buildings in which the people that can afford to refurbish it themselves live.
If we combine these three pillars, and we have a project with these three that I mentioned, we will have a New European Bauhaus project.
What’s your favourite European Bauhaus project that you think represents the movement best?
I always present the same example. It is called APROP Ciutat Vella and located in the centre of Barcelona.
It was a plot that was from the municipality, and the building was built from industrial containers, reusing old ones.
The final aspect is that it is fantastic. It’s first quality architecture because they have done all the things that they need to do. It is like you live in a jewel.
You can’t imagine that this building comes from these kinds of containers. And the building is zero-emission too.
This building is used now to house families in risk of having to be on the street, for six to eight months. And we’re not talking about social houses like you could think in an inner suburb of the city, horrible social housing. Anybody would like to live there.
The people that are just working day in day out somewhere in Barcelona, how will the new European Bauhaus impact them?
The major impact will come with the renovation wave. The European Union is trying to incorporate the Green Deal also into the building sector.
Because the building sector is responsible for 40% of the emissions in all the European Union and 36% of the energy consumption.
So we now want to invest a huge quantity of euros all across the European Union.
If we are going to arrive at the 5 million buildings across the European Union, sure, the citizens are going to be affected by that in some way.
But if we only invest in, for example, changing solar panels or changing the boiler of your heating, people’s quality of life won’t be improved. They will only have to pay less at the end of the month because your building will be more efficient.
Now, with the New European Bauhaus, local authorities can create criteria that say: “If you want money, you can not only install solar panels or change the heater, you have to deeply restore the building, positively impact denizens’ quality of life and make it more beautiful and sustainable too.”
Barcelona is a world leader when it comes to public spaces. Do you think that the New European Bauhaus will lead other cities in the EU to rediscover and reconquer public spaces in cities?
Yes, I think so. We have been seeing progress across the EU. Last week, I was with a professor of the Technology Institute of a Finnish university, and they developed a project which obtained New European Bauhaus funding to develop public space in cities.
They are working with very little money, but they’re changing the way in which citizens use this public space for communal activities, for co-creation and for co-decisions by communities.
We are retaking the public spaces, that have only been used by cars for decades. From cars to people, we’re changing the way we use public space, eliminating cars from public spaces and making them more useful for citizens.
But is everything going according to plan? In your European Parliament report, you noted that the New European Bauhaus had yet to reach all EU countries and interested parties within them, which countries are the problem?
Well, it is not that they are problematic. All countries have created the national contact points, but not all the national contact points have developed the same way.
I prefer to say which countries are leading. Each country has its own timing.
I am very proud that my country [Spain] is one of them leaders when it comes to the New European Bauhaus. But also the Nordic countries, Finland, Sweden, are leading alongside the Mediterranean countries, like Italy.
Of course, in the Netherlands, Poland and Lithuania as well as Estonia, there are also activities. I may have forgotten some countries. And there are pilot projects all across the EU.
In your report, you also highlight the necessity to anchor the new European Bauhaus into legislation, specifically inside the European Performance of Buildings Directive and the energy and Efficiency Directive. I checked the Commission proposal, the Bauhaus was only mentioned twice. Is it too abstract?
Well, on the one hand, the European Bauhaus is kind of an abstract concept. It is not a principle that you have to enshrine in the laws, although it should inspire them.
So for me, the two mentions in the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive is a big success.
It is abstract. Sustainability is pretty easy to explain, every technician will understand.
But the Bauhaus is also about beauty, which is removed from all paradigms. Incorporating beauty into law is a challenge.
So it’s important that we can even put the Bauhaus in the recital or even put in the initial terms of any directive that includes some part of the New European Bauhaus.
That for me is a success. It is not enough. Of course, it’s not enough. We would like to incorporate it in every new legislation that is related to the Green Deal. But let’s see how it will develop in the coming years.
If a schoolboy asked you about the main benefit of the New European Bauhaus, what would you tell them?
The main benefit is that we are pressing local, regional national authorities to try to think all the way in which they invest funding in refurbishing our built environment, our cities, our neighbourhoods, our buildings or our houses.
Maybe the main benefit will be that we are trying to put everyone on thinking how could we live better in the same spaces as we live now, but we don’t live the way that we want to live.
It’s a little bit complex, but the main benefit is that we are pushing people to think differently.
I think this is the major success of this initiative.
Do you think the New European Bauhaus is going to see the same level of success as its predecessor, the original Bauhaus?
Well, it’s difficult to foresee. We don’t know how is it going to develop, but there are major differences as well as many similarities.
The difference is that the original Bauhaus started from the very bottom, citizen participation. It was an educational movement that arrived to democratize the way we live our lives. Before the Bauhaus, you could live either in an affordable house or a decent one. The Bauhaus made both possible.
Now, the situation is different because the initiative comes from the very top of the institutions, from the president herself. She was the first person that said I want to develop this initiative.
But the way that the European Commission has developed the first year, it was a very participative way in which they call for everyone to send ideas and engage.
They have engaged with more than 400 partners all across the European Union, they have engaged with all the member states. And I think that if things go that way, finally they will arrive to produce some kind of change.
The risk now is that two years have passed, now we need real money to invest in the European Bauhaus, and we need to create clear criteria.
These are our main demands from the report from the European Parliament. We are asking the European Commission, we first need money to put in the European budget. And we need clear criteria in order that regional local and national authorities can develop new European Bauhaus projects.
If they do that. I think we will see a major change of our environment.