Readers of the BURST Magazine may be familiar with the New European Bauhaus initiative, as we already covered it in July last year. However, this time, we managed to ask Alicja Herbowska, Acting Head of Unit for the NEB at the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission for an interview. The interview will explain the Commission’s understanding of the NEB, some of their concrete projects, as well as opportunities to join their initiative.

BURST: What, in your opinion, is the New European Bauhaus initiative about? What is its main purpose?

Alicja Herbowska: The New European Bauhaus (NEB) is an initiative launched in 2020 by the European Commission that connects the European Green Deal to our daily lives and living spaces through tangible changes.

These changes contribute to creating a new lifestyle that matches sustainability with good design that is inclusive and affordable while respecting the diversity in Europe and beyond by emphasizing three core values that need to be present simultaneously in projects, places or experiences: beauty, sustainability, and inclusion.

NEB-related activities also adhere to principles that characterize how projects should come about: it fosters learning experiences across disciplines and gathers ideas from more unlikely sources, including removing barriers for people who are not always able to influence policy-making. Its participatory and transversal approach encourages everyone to join the movement and to reflect on possible solutions to the many interconnected challenges that society faces, from climate change to social and spatial inequalities.

The changes encompass three key interconnected transformations:

NEB initiative also acts as a platform for discussions and knowledge exchanges, the development of project partnerships, proposals, and funding opportunities for transformative projects.

Earlier this month, our first Progress report was adopted by the Commission. In the report we share the achievements and learnings of the first two years of the initiative.

How do you envision the NEB Lab to bring that about?

The NEB Lab is the “think and do tank” of the initiative, to co-create, prototype and test tools, solutions and policy actions that facilitate the desired changes on the ground.

It hosts projects initiated and implemented by consortia of NEB community members or by the European Commission. Projects in the NEB Lab must adhere to a set of criteria that reflects the NEB values and principles: project partnerships need to combine a variety of disciplines, and relevant competencies and need to include participants from different EU Member States. The projects are expected to initiate a change process and should also inform policy-making with their outcomes, offer open-source learning opportunities for NEB Community members and be able to be tested and replicated in different contexts.

The NEB Lab does not provide funding but supports the maturing of the projects and facilitates the connections with potentially interested parties (Commission services, regional or local authorities, businesses, experts, etc.), dissemination of project outputs and sharing of knowledge and experience from the projects.

How will the NEB Lab work?

The NEB Lab encompasses two clusters of activities, depending on the status of a project. For projects that are a part of the NEB Lab, the NEB team monitors and exchanges with the project partnership to receive regular updates about the project results which are then shared with the NEB community organizes consultative or co-creation sessions on specific project activities with the community support the dissemination of project results and outputs and resolving of any project management challenges and issues.

For a project that has the ambition to enter the NEB Lab, we support them by facilitating project partnership development, providing feedback on the project plan (planned activities, results and dissemination plans) and application for the NEB Lab concerning the Lab’s criteria. We have developed a set of activities that we regularly organise to support project and partnership development like NEB Lab pitching sessions and a collaborative exercise to map a project’s ecosystem.

Do you have an example what the NEB Lab might do?

Currently, we have eight active NEB Lab projects, five led by the European Commission and three community-led. Let me give you an example from each category.

The Commission-led projects have been identified based on the co-creation phase. The New European Bauhaus community recognised them as important enablers for the transformations of the built environment and the implementation of the NEB projects.

I would like to point out three Commission led projects that have produced results in 2022. The Labelling Strategy was developed to clarify the general criteria for selecting and evaluating NEB projects and initiatives. This labelling strategy is carried out in the framework of the Preparatory Action on the ‘NEB Knowledge Management Platform’ of the European Parliament. 2022 saw the completion of the first phase of the NEB Lab project Innovative Funding. This project aims to financially support smaller beneficiaries in Europe that struggle to access the normal, often complex, channels of EU funding through EU calls and programmes. In 2023, a pilot labelled the NEB Funding Solutions Hub will be developed encompassing both philanthropy and crowd funding. The Hub would act as a one-stop-shop for both philanthropists and project promotors bringing greater efficiencies and focus to the sector. The NEB Lab project Actions for Ukraine has been developed after the Russian aggression. As part of an ecosystem of European programmes dedicated to helping Ukraine, the role of the NEB has first been to connect different ongoing initiatives, using once again the strength and collective intelligence of its network. Under the NEB Lab and in cooperation with Ukrainian Partners, the project was developed with three priority axes: housing emergency, circular housing, and capacity-building webinars. The first expert reviews on the three priority axes have shown that there is a demand for exchanging and adapting knowledge and expertise e.g. for sustainable reconstruction, energy efficiency, but also participatory processes and urban planning.

The three community-led projects currently in the NEB Lab are NEB goes South, a project initiated by six architecture schools in Southern Europe (Porto, Valencia, Toulouse, Bologna, Zagreb, Athens). The initiative is debating the specific problems and responses that Southern European regions face concerning the environmental and societal crises and inspires curriculum changes that can promote a new professional culture fostering a more sustainable built environment in line with the NEB values. The Nordic carbon neutral Bauhaus aims at unleashing the power of creativity that can help imagine what built environment and cities of the future will be. It is initiated by the governments of five Nordic countries (Denmark – and the autonomous region of the Faroe Islands, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, and Norway). In November 2022, Estonia joined the Nordic Bauhaus. The New European Bauhaus of the mountains project aims at implementing NEB at the regional level, with a special focus on South Tyrol. The project is driving the transformation of places, public spaces and buildings in the mountains.

What are NEB partners?

Community is at the core of the New European Bauhaus initiative. Since April 2022 all types of entities (non-profit, for-profit, public authorities) can join the initiative. NEB partners are non-profit organizations (NGOs, foundations, and education and research entities) with a relevant outreach capacity who are committed to acting as promoters and key interlocutors for the New European Bauhaus initiative – and BURST is one of them.

Partner organisations come from all Member States and reach millions of people. Several entities from non-EU countries, such as Ukraine, the United States and Türkiye also joined the network. Over 35 countries are represented in the NEB community so far. NEB partners come from more than 20 sectors of activities. The largest cohorts represent entities from research and education and architecture and design sectors, followed by entities working in art and culture, urban and rural development, cultural heritage, engineering and construction. In the first week of January, we welcomed our 600th partner to the NEB community.

How can NEB partners spread the message of NEB to municipalities around Europe?

There are several opportunities for interaction and collaboration between NEB partners and municipalities. First, many NEB partners work with municipalities as a part of their ongoing and daily activities. As NEB ambassadors they can use this opportunities to present the New European Bauhaus initiative, opportunities it offers for municipalities or invite municipalities to join or support their NEB-related activities.

Second, municipalities can become members of the NEB community by applying for a status as NEB friend. All members of the NEB community regularly meet during topical monthly online sessions and interact on the community platform.

Among the NEB partners in our community, we also have municipality umbrella organisations like the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CCRE-CEMR), ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability, European Regions Research and Innovation Network (ERRIN) and regional and municipal representations in Brussels. These NEB partners actively build connections with the municipalities by disseminating information to the municipalities and representing municipal interests’ vis-à-vis the initiative.

Alicja Herbowska, Acting Head of Unit for the NEB over at the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission. Before this position, she worked in various positions as a civil servant in the European Commission and European Parliament, acting as Deputy Head of Cabinet for Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, as well as Head of Cabinet for the European Economic and Social Committee.