Would a modern twist on the Bauhaus vision help to inspire and transform, asks Elaine Toogood

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The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen recently said that the climate transition needs its own ‘distinctive aesthetic’. She has vowed to set up a new Bauhaus movement to inspire architects and designers.

Politicians should obviously enter cultural projects and design with care – the garden bridge concept tells us that. They also need to avoid becoming part of a Eurosceptic narrative. However, there are great merits for a new Europe-wide Bauhaus vision to aid the transition to net zero. 

Climate emergency aside, the societal challenges that bauhaus designers were responding to in the 1920s and early 1930s were as great as they are today. The impact of the Great War, Spanish Flu and the Great Depression changed the world.  

The Bauhaus school, founded in early 20th century Germany, wanted architecture to raise quality of life for the masses and it was an artistic precursor to a social market economy.

A Bauhaus movement for 2021 and beyond would require a new appreciation of materials and attitude to craft

Our society’s response to climate change and the social and economic impact of covid-19 will require profound behavioural change and social and economic transformation. An inclusive design movement with ambition to inspire and match style with sustainability could play a part. It could be a significant way of helping to build back better.     

The original Bauhaus school led architects to innovate using new materials of the time such as poured concrete, steel and glass, with a focus on the process of making and craft. 

A Bauhaus movement for 2021 and beyond would require a new appreciation of materials and attitude to craft, together with a greater understanding of their lifecycle environmental impact and the role of the circular economy and natural capital. 

These new approaches do not require a departure from materials like concrete that were so integral to the original movement, but rather provide new opportunities for its use. The UK concrete and cement industry’s Roadmap to Beyond Net Zero is clear about this commitment and the significant decarbonisation that has already been achieved in the UK.     

The Bauhaus of the 1920s focused on individual handmade craft, but this shifted to a more industrial focus, merging technology and emphasising mass production.

In 2020, this is already happening and a new contemporary craft using digital construction is gathering pace, democratising the process of making through personal 3D printing machines. Innovative digital manufacturing techniques such as those with formwork are also greatly simplifying the creation of complex and ornate shapes, texture and pattern for mass production.

In this way architectural precast concrete offers opportunity to bring individualism and interest into the built environment cost effectively and at scale. The scope to enhance and develop these opportunities is genuinely exciting.

A new Bauhaus school would need some semblance of Europe-wide buy in. This remains a challenge in a Brexit landscape and at a time when many politicians are looking inwardly at their own countries’ response to the pandemic, economic recovery and net zero. 

The reality is that all governments, businesses and people need to change behaviours and finance a net zero society. Perhaps a new Bauhaus for our times could provide a design and cultural movement that we can all unite behind.

Elaine Toogood, head of architecture, The Concrete Centre