Following a long cooperative process to partake in the EU Commission’s New European Bauhaus initiative, NXT has submitted a joint project proposal, Irresistible Circular Society, alongside BLOX and DI in the hope of being selected in June this year as one of five New European Bauhaus’. In the following text, Daniel Frank Christensen, Cand.mag in Philosophy & Theory of Science, describes the NXT method Stedets Væsen [Being of Place] and the larger context of the New European Bauhaus movement.
BY DANIEL FRANK CHRISTENSEN
Just prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in late 2019, when climate change arguably held unrivalled crisis status at the top of public agendas around the world, the EU Commission presented the European Green Deal as an extensive and varied package of regulation, project funding, subsidies, infrastructure improvement, industrial policy and, not least, union-wide reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions of more than 55% by the end of this decade, with a joint objective to achieve net climate neutrality set for mid-century.
Buildings need a lot of resources both to build and operate, making the construction sector one of the most obvious places to break ground. As a major contributor of emissions and other pollutants, comparative and nominal, greening the built environment is as immediate a concern to climate and society as decarbonising power grids and electrifying transportation.
Centring concepts such as economic circularity, supply security, social inclusion and resource resilience, the Commission conceived a plan to help facilitate the transformation of the continent’s largely antiquated and energy-intensive structures, as well as to steer new building and urban planning toward an ever-expanding notion of sustainability. Perhaps to signal this increasingly inclusive concept, in 2020 the EU Commission launched the New European Bauhaus initiative as a part of the Green Deal to gather an assortment of values and methods into a scalable Gesamtkunstwerk worthy of the German institution’s name.
The historic Bauhaus, an active school with locales in three cities from 1919 to 1933, is now widely associated with rational, functional, yet highly vogue, objects and spaces conceived by meshing fine arts to design in a spirit of democratic modernity – with functionally beautiful products made commonly accessible through serial production reconciled with artistry and craftsmanship. The New European Bauhaus rearticulates several of the school’s values while adding elements of central contemporary significance: climate, environment, and social equity, with plans to establish five centres across the union; five New European Bauhaus’.
From human-centered to multi-species community
Concrete examples of such project potentials are as varied as they are numerous. Yet often and despite distinctiveness all seem to address the same overarching concerns by employing an approach of pluralism in both method and aim. New construction projects can source components made of biologically safe and naturally abundant materials that even passively regulate indoor climate with buildings while also being connected to central heating powered by waste. Renewable power contracted from networks can be paired with on-site solar panels designed to complement architectural aesthetics. Reward schemes are proposed to motivate and monetize environmentally beneficial behaviour in communities. Individual or networked buildings are suggested for achieving carbon neutrality or even negativity. Wastewater, sewage, and other biomaterials could be processed and recycled for use as energy or fertiliser on site or fed into distribution networks. Modernising heritage buildings in old European cities could use a range of combinatory methods whereby developers consult local histories, consider the surrounding urban or wilder environment, and source materials fitting historic style. Such modernisations could perhaps outperform originals on several parameters, such as insulation or underlying CO2 emissions – all while featuring, for instance, “haptic materiality” perfectly matched to contemporary architecture. Rainwater harvesting could be used for on-site use in toilets, showers and laundry facilities. Finally, designing places with “healing effects” that “promote wellbeing” and optimise “an architectural project’s environment-health-wellness indicators” is also an ambition. In one way or another, it appears most projects connected to the New European Bauhaus initiative seek to transform the places people live and work into resource-efficient works of art conducive to public social health and ecological equilibrium.
Being of Place [Stedets Væsen]
As a part of the official Danish New European Bauhaus proposal, Irresistible Circular Society, and in collaboration with Danish contractor group NCC, with BLOX and DI [Danish Industry], NXT is proposing a similarly pluralist method of complementing existing considerations used in preliminary impact assessments with a new set of criteria focused on uncovering and utilising “regenerative” potentials inherent to every place.
Being of Place [Stedets Væsen], as the NXT method is called, aims to ensure that “qualities are conserved and amplified in construction projects to increase future value while remaining embedded in receptivity toward locally bound qualities and the ‘hidden voices’ of place – the social, sensory, historic and biological.” A statement on the proposal reads:
“In the intersection of art, biodiversity, circularity and storytelling, places are viewed with sensitivity and an ambition to awaken all factors that are conducive of life contained within every place.”
Being of Place poses a series of questions to identify such regenerative forces present at project sites, seeking to guide design toward incorporating features that grow site value in a holistic sense, the general curiosity of which can be boiled down to “what is experienced as valuable life in future buildings and urban environments?”
Everything is connected
Madeleine Kate McGowan, artist at NXT and lead profile behind the proposal, notes that the method of Being of Place reflects the idea of ‘everything being connected’, which she says forms the starting point for new systems to be developed.
“The radical connectedness of all life should be our basic precept when developing construction projects, enabling us to relate to how a place is no isolated unit, but rather forms a complex part of a larger network of human and non-human beings” McGowan explains to sector platform Building Green, adding:
“It’s unbelievably important that we work pluralistically, not spending our time on endless discussions of whether culture or technology will solve the crisis. In my opinion, the answer is precisely pluralism – it’s both/and. We must approach the problem from an interdisciplinary perspective. We all have a role to play.”
Moreover, taking such considerations seriously should not be solely ascribed to green idealism. Taking proper account of animal life present at sites – birds, mice, bats, reindeer, badgers – before committing cash and material to a project has simply become sound risk management. As witnessed in several stalled renewable energy projects across the Nordics, taking a one-eyed view on, for instance, the necessity and prerogative of displacing carbon emissions can set projects into hiatus or delays. This can add a series of legal, budgetary and bureaucratic headaches for fast movers failing to respect the habitat of what they might first oversee as insignificant, inconvenient communities in the race to decarbonise. Future developments of all kinds are likely to benefit in many senses, monetary and otherwise, from beginning with holistic appraisals and adding appropriately supportive designs. In other words, as NXT collaborator, sociologist and artist Inga Gerner Nielsen phrases:
“It’s crucial that transformation in the name of the green transition does not entail more overwriting of places with top-down plans. It is vital that we listen, and artistic practices offer a way to listen.”