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Beautiful, sustainable and inclusive? The New European Bauhaus from a homelessness perspective

On Tuesday 16 November from 13:00PM to 15:00PM (CET), the Housing Solutions Platform will organize an online debate on the new European Bauhaus, questioning the place dedicated to homelessness in this initiative.

Please make sure you register here.

Objective and context of the debate: The New European Bauhaus (NEB) is an initiative of the European Commission. It is an attempt to create a “creative and interdisciplinary movement” within the EU. The idea is to translate the European Green Deal into on-the-ground change in line with the values sustainability, aesthetics, and inclusion. Launched with a co-design phase (October 2020 – June 2021), the initiative has now entered a delivery phase, involving inter alia the setup and implementation of New European Bauhaus pilots, supported by calls for proposals. About €85 million is to be dedicated to New European Bauhaus projects from existing EU programmes in 2021 – 2022.

This debate will focus on the inclusive dimension of the NEB and what it can achieve in terms “prioritising the places and people that need it the most”. What does inclusion mean in the context of the NEB? Can it support the identification, development and scaling-up of solutions to homelessness and housing exclusion? What innovative ideas and projects would help deliver more affordable, sustainable housing solutions to people who need them? What impact can we realistically expect from the NEB in the context of a severe housing crisis?

Programme: Title: Beautiful, sustainable and inclusive? The NEB from a homelessness perspective.

Chair: Ruth Owen, deputy director FEANTSA

1. Welcome by MEP Marcos Ros Sempere

2. Kick-off input by Ruth Reichstein, IDEA: What is the NEB? How will it work? What makes it inclusive? Who “needs it most”? How will it reach them?

3. Showcase: Beautiful, sustainable, inclusive solutions to homelessness

Presentation of NEB prize winners and other projects

· Astrid Lykke Nielsen, (architect), Homeless Housing (DK)

· Craig White (CEO), Agile Homes Bristol (UK)

· Javier Burón (Housing Manager, City of Barcelona), ‘APROP Barcelona’ (ES)

4. Responses by experts and discussion

· Orla Murphy, member of the NEB Round Table and Assistant Professor at UCD School of Architecture Planning and Environmental Policy (IE)

· Juha Kaakinen, CEO Y-Foundation (FI)

· Albert Sales Campos, University Pompeu Fabra Barcelona (ES)

· Oliver Scheifinger, tafkaoo architects Berlin - Helsinki -Vienna

5. Q&A with audience

6. Conclusions

· Housing Europe

· Foundation Abbé Pierre

· Ruth Reichstein, I.D.E.A.

Written summary:(pdf version here)

Introduction & definitions

The event was chaired by Ruth Owen, deputy director at FEANTSA, and opened by the Member of European Parliament (MEP) Marcos Ros Sempere. The latter highlighted the importance of the social dimension of the New European Bauhaus (NEB) and described this initiative as a “cultural paradigm shift for a new political time”. The MEP recalled the European context of this initiative, with the European Green Deal, the New Leipzig Charter and the Renovation Wave of buildings, and stressed the importance of the NEB for these initiatives. He recalled the Socialists & Democrats’ desire to emphasise the social dimension of the NEB, and presented their Position Paper, asking for the inclusion of the lowest income groups and the prevention of gentrification. The architect showed that the NEB was already considering the issue of homeless through its awards and stressed that “Architecture can change our lives, but good architecture can improve them”, and that “good architecture should never leave anyone behind”.

Ruth Reichstein, Policy Analyst at IDEA, presented the NEB and explained that this initiative was born from the willingness to “speed up action against climate change”, and “make the Green Deal more tangible”. The NEB is not only about buildings, but as these account for about 40% of CO2 emissions globally, these represent great opportunities to save emissions in “improve our lives”. She presented the NEB timeline, its main projects, and main thematic axes for transformation (“reconnecting to nature, retaining a sense of belonging, prioritising the places and people that need it the most, and the need for long term and life cycle thinking in the industrial ecosystem”). She drew participants attention to the call on Social and Affordable Housing District Demonstrators, open until January 2022. She recalled that the NEB is part of a policy ecosystem with the European Semester, the EU Pillar of Social Rights, the EU Platform on Combatting Homelessness, and the Affordable Housing Initiative. Regarding homelessness finally, she reminded participants that the NEB is still “in the reflection stage”, but she insured that the Commission is engaged with housing organizations to tackle this issue and wish to “lower the barriers for participation”.

Showcase, the NEB prize winners and other projects

David Juarez, architect and co-founder of Straddle3 (Spain), presented his project ARPOP, one of the winners of the “New European Bauhaus Awards”. Working in collaboration with the municipality of Barcelona, this project aims at “not only defend[ing] the right to housing, but also the right to city in its globality”. This project is centred around the use of containers to build energy-efficient and well-located temporary housing to combat homelessness and gentrification due to a lack of housing in the city. The pilot project was launched in the core of the city of Barcelona, with twelve dwellings building constructed with various materials. The speaker assured that the feedback from the tenants was positive, and that two more similar initiatives were now ongoing. He highlighted the strength of this project: the good location of the building, the speed of construction (3,5 months), the ecological and economic efficiency, the good quality, and the circularity and re-usability. He also pointed out the weaknesses of the project, namely the closed modularity and compatibility, the long deployment period due to bureaucracy, the top-down process (difficult to implement participatory procedures), and the negative social pressure from the neighbourhood that needs to be tackle with good communication.

Astrid Lykke Nielsen, architect at Homeless Housing (Denmark), one of the winners of the “New European Bauhaus Rising Stars” Prize, presented her project. Based on the initiative Skæve boliger and on the Finnish Housing First strategy, she has designed a plans for housing that targets the most vulnerable people. It features social support, connection, and privacy. “There should be more than just one type of housing to fit everyone”, she explains. She has profiled the future tenants to define their needs before designing the houses. Based on Danish data, she “builds on wishes”, needs, and on the success criteria of existing projects. The result is small dwellings for ease of maintenance, with private gardens, communal facilities, and little visibility to facilitate privacy and a sense of home.

Craig White, CEO at Agile Homes in Bristol (UK) presented his project. First, he reminded the importance of focusing “on the people” and not “on the condition” of homelessness. To face the housing crisis that is happening in Europe and the UK due to a lack of housing supply, the project is to build affordable homes without paying for land, while “unlocking new land supply”. To illustrate that, he evoked the project Emmaus Bristol Rooftop Community: fifteen affordable one-and two-bedrooms and community-led homes built on the roof of a homelessness charity in Bristol. To face the climate emergency, Agile Homes only uses renewable materials, and developed a new finance method. A one-person-one-bedroom 37 m2 home costs £95 000. The idea is to “think small” in a “people-centred” project that offers “safe, civil, affordable, low-carbon homes” designed “for people, planet, profit and purpose”. In addition to that, to fight the “revolving door” of prisons”, the organization signed a contract with the Ministry of Justice to manufacture their build systems in prison workshops as part of a training programme for prisoners. Finally, he explained that guaranteeing an affordable low carbon house to vulnerable people together with support brings stability, and hence reduces the risk of these people of relying on agencies and having them move around from service to service to support their stress, anxiety and addictions.

Response by experts & discussion

Orla Murphy, member of the NEB Round Table and Assistant Professor at UCD School of Architecture Planning and Environmental Policy commented the presentations by recalling that homelessness is about people and their stories. She mentioned a three-year project called Rising Homes led by the University UCD School of Architecture Planning and Environmental Policy in the Irish housing crisis context. As part of this research and design studio, the participants listened to the stories of people experiencing homelessness and found out that “for everybody there was a different story”. The conclusion to be drawn from this experience is that there is a spectrum of housing needs and that solutions must be developed to fit these needs. She highlighted the “power of design” in producing people-centred, inclusive, sustainable, and beautiful buildings to achieve that goal, and that the NEB could be a part of this due to these shared values.

Juha Kaakinen, CEO at Y-Foundation (FI) shared his initial scepticism towards the NEB efficiency to solve homelessness but praised the work of the architects as a source of great hope. Although he recognized the need for different types of housing, he warned about the too specific differentiation between “housing for homelessness” and “normal housing” and claimed that “there should not be a homeless type of housing because it is not different from a normal affordable, sustainable, and beautiful housing”.

Albert Sales Campos, Professors at the University Pompeu Fabra Barcelona (ES) expressed his enthusiasm to hear talking about homelessness from a housing perspective. Citing the American comedian George Carlin, he called for the use of the word “houselessness” instead of “homelessness”, as “home is an idea, a state of mind”, and as “it is houses that these people need, physical tangible structures”. “The needs of the homeless are the same as the ones from the other parts of the population”. He expressed his disappointment to see “innovative solutions” asked by the Spanish media, part of the politicians and associations to fight homelessness in Barcelona ending building “better shelters” and leading to a doubling of the number of people in emergency accommodations in ten years. Finally, he shared his worry on the temporality and access for rough sleepers of these new projects, as these often address other groups of people excluded from housing “but do not provide for those most in need”.

Oliver Scheifinger, architect and founding member of tafkaoo architects (Berlin, Helsinki, Vienna) recalled that “the most sustainable square meter we can do is the one we don’t build because we don’t need it”. He pointed out the importance of participatory processes and raised awareness on the major challenges of building this type of housing: the need for land. He emphasised the limits of “great ideas within the existing real estate market”. He explained that the challenges related to current real estate market represented barriers for many projects, whaled him and his partners to fund their own housing cooperative. If strategies exist to face that (creating housing in places not identified as such before, using technology to build using wooden straws, make alliances of people living in these houses and people building these houses), he hopes that the NEB will be an opportunity to facilitate these projects. Strategies to address these challenges have been developed such as building housing in places not identified as building grounds before, using technology to produce new sustainable construction materials, make alliances between future tenants and constructors. He hopes that the NEB will be an opportunity to further develop projects which build on these learnings.


What hopes for the NEB in relation to homelessness?

Orla Murphy: As the EU population continues to grow and the housing shortage increases, it is likely that the housing crisis will continue to worsen. In addition, the climate emergency imposes contradictory challenges: guaranteeing the right to housing and upgrading aging housing stock, at the same time transitioning towards a decarbonised continent. In this context the NEB will not be a magic solution, however, we will need more than restrictive regulatory measures, but vehicles that are “enabling”. Design can be very useful in developing innovative solutions which help to face these challenges.

What kind of innovations would you like to see in the NEB promote in relation to homelessness?

Oliver Scheifinger: One of the major obstacles of the projects that are ongoing is funding. From his experience in Finland, all projects are struggling now because no bank will provide financing, and it is hard to provide housing on the current market. The NEB should give the opportunity to projects to be implemented.

Juha Kaakinen: It important to focus on concrete examples that have transformative character. There is a need for a system change from temporary accommodation to permanent housing. Renovating and converting existing buildings into housing is a solution. This is not always beautiful, but “beautiful does not always fight the ugly reality of homelessness”, and it is sustainable and inclusive.

Craig White: Architects, if they want to be part of the change, need to work “in an inter-agency way”, work with communities, financers, lawyers, stop being only architects and “become enablers”. There is money trying to find its way into developments with social impact.

When it comes to homelessness, do inclusive and beautiful necessarily go together?

Albert Sales Campos: Shelters and day centres will survive in Europe. Nowadays these places are unpleasant and ugly. If these are places supposed to take care of people, people should feel well treated. Thus, we need to develop more services and better support in shelters and day centres to make them better and more pleasant places.

What economic and political challenges does your approach pose to the mainstream housing industry?

Craig White: Bristol City Council is now a partner of Agile Homes projects, but it took 15 months to get the City Council publicly support their work in the local plan. However, the City Council announced that they would support Agile Homes’ projects “in areas of deprivation”, while Agile Homes wanted to have projects happening everywhere. Agile Homes hence decided to build without planning permission, and “subvert” the system “until you get people willing to engage in the new models”. Now, Agile Homes is working at national level.

Linda Farrow, co-founder at Agile Homes in Bristol (UK): We see a massive shift in the UK in the way ethical finance and funding is working. There is a lot of “socially minded money” that is ready to invest in this kind of socially inclusive and ecological projects.

Oliver Scheifinger: It is important to think about the “ethics of our business” and encourage more people and next generations to choose this way of doing business.

How to insure a good thermal situation in the containers?

David Juarez: There is a prejudice against using containers, but APROP worked a lot to be sure to use containers as any other materials and meet all the quality certificates. APROP improved containers and used other materials to improve isolation, sometimes combining the use of containers with other techniques.

Ruth Reichstein: Funding is key. There is lot of money (coming from philanthropic funds for example) that can be used but who needs to find the good channel. “Beautiful” is key. The dimension of well-being in a home is important because it touches upon the identity of the human being. It is important to make sure that everyone has a home that provides them with a good feeling. Finally, the NEB is before anything else participatory, and the European Commission needs and waits for your input.


Sorcha Edwards, Secretary General at Housing Europe praised NEB's work in highlighting inspiring projects and recalled the importance of collaboration between associations and European institutions to ensure that what can be done will be done, concluding: "We are happy to take up this challenge".


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