Author: starglide

A field of stinging nettle and dandelions.

So, what is the New European Bauhaus, exactly?

The first of december marks the beginning of my sixth month outside of the European Commission. It has been quite an experience, from the initial work as senior designer at the EU Policy Lab, to the last two and a half years in the team that started the New European Bauhaus.

Because of that experience, I am still often invited to talks, such as the last SME Assembly in Prague, and I am asked questions, such as the one Lisa Lang asked me then: “so, what exactly is the New European Bauhaus?”. Or: “Why is the European Bauhaus so vague?”, or again “what do beautiful, sustainable, together mean? What is beautiful, sustainable, together?” And finally, “are you talking about buildings? Or cities?”

While I was at the Commission my usual reply was that the novelty of the New European Bauhaus initiative is exactly in its open approach. By soliciting and rewarding with visibility and prizes the examples of “beautiful, sustainable, together” already present all over Europe, the initiative is demonstrating a sensible approach to realising the future that we want, without being prescriptive.

My position was that beautiful, or sustainable, or together have different meanings across Europe and are translated in very different and sometimes contraddicting ways. While living together with nature could be beautiful to some, it could mean anxiety to others. In a similar way, sustainable life or a sustainable building in northern Europe is radically different from its equivalent in the Mediterranean, and so it really makes little to no sense to define a priori what the New European Bauhaus is: we need to let it emerge and recognise it locally.

This approach not only represented a powerful link to local cultures and to indigenous, open, collaborative forms of architecture, it also prevented lobbyists to come up with a convenient translation in their typical “either/or” scenarios, while pushing their own particular approach or material, or technology.

I gave Lisa and the audience the same answer a week ago as an “informed alumni”, and what I sensed was a familiar reaction. While some people were happy and felt that they could start acting, others were apparently not. And I have the impression that while the concept in itself may have been ok, some people still felt uneasy about the openness. How can we act if we don’t have a definition? How do we know what to do, if we don’t have clear guidelines with KPI’s?

So, today, I will complement the answer with a bit that maybe was always missing. It just hit me after the panel.

The reason why the New European Bauhaus is so difficult to understand is because it’s conceived as a design brief. And on top of it, not as any kind of design brief, but as the design brief you get from the best client you may dream of.

So let me clarify first what is a design brief is, in the remote case that you are not a designer or an architect. A design brief is the request you receive at the beginning of a project, that usually defines the boundaries of what you are expected to do.

In other words, a very high level design brief could be “I need a poster on…” or “I need a house for my family in…”

Now, here is the trick. The level of detail in the brief makes the difference. Too much detail, too many constraints, and the brief misses the opportunity to engage a designer’s seniority. Too little detail, and the result may not match the client’s expectations. But there’s a hidden implication. While a good designer will follow up (sometimes with experiments and prototypes) to understand better the expectations behind a brief that is too open, she will very likely dismiss a brief where constraints are too many and too rigid. It’s a matter of seniority and competence, among other reasons.

So here’s why, in my opinion, the New European Bauhaus is the brief from the perfect client.

First, because it addresses a societal, environmental and economic need starting from its emotional side. It solicits a value-driven response, while giving society enough space to act creatively. A perfect clients asks for a house that “feels” in a certain way, and maybe gives hints on her favorite colour, or object, or material. She does not decide the size and position of the kitchen, and the brand and type of appliances.

Second, because from a political point of view an open brief demonstrates that when policy moves away from solution-making and embraces sense-making in all its complexity, the results look a lot less like the expression of a mono-culture and a lot more like a true ecosystem.

Finally, and importantly, because it’s a brief backed by money. And it’s money coming from different parts of the institution, with different lenses: from research, to culture, to regional development, etc. It has a potential to be transformative in several fields.

In the end, what the New European Bauhaus is asking us all is to become better designers. It’s asking us to move away from binary ways of addressing fundamental questions, to enter into the space of relationships and conversations that is needed to design beautifully our future.

It is a form of inspired freedom that we may not be comfortable with, but that I believe is very much needed.

Jebes toc-toc

On “artists”, entrepreneurship and marketing.

Last Thursday I visited Dom Mladih, in Split, Croatia, during a work recognition. Here are some pictures, the post follows below.

Dom Mladih translates into “House of Youth” or youth centre. It is a place with a very intricated history which weaves together the creative energy of independent entities, organised in a Coalition of Youth Associations, and the city, with an empathic, nurturing role. The premises are owned by the city and managed by the Multimedia Cultural Centre, a public organisation also owned by the city of Split.

Dom Mladih is the result of several years of self-management and voluntary remodeling, which gave life to several activities, from a skate park, to a small cine, an exhibition area, an indoor climbing ring, a club, and several other interesting, informal and dense places.

I know to little about the place and the history to tell more, this is what I could figure out from a very quick and dirty visit and conversation with some of the persons involved.

What I want to talk about, instead, is an automatic reflex that engages when “someone from the outside” starts interacting with a context like this.

The reflex is the certainty that the “creative industries” (a collective name I profoundly dislike, by the way) need to up their managerial skills, because they keep struggling and are often unprofitable.

I leave the automatic assumption that managerial skills are conducive of profitability aside. Let’s just say that there are many cases of brilliant management that failed, and as many very profitable ventures led by dramatically poor management. Decontextualised management skills mean very little.

I want to focus instead on the counterintuitive realisation that maybe creative profiles are infact extremely good at management, and on top of that, they’re traditionally good at managing in complexity, where complexity is understood from the perspective of the Cynefin framework and that of complex-adaptive systems. An art that mainstream management is just starting to discover now.

They are good at it because they’re trained to take into consideration the relational side of everything as an essential part of their practice. (By the way, it’s the “relational side”, not the “soft side”. “Soft skills” is a diminishing perspective on skills that are very hard to master.)

It is hard and wrong to generalise, but I would argue that at least in Dom Mladih, the “artists” are able to do everything a manager is asked to do and more, but they still fall prey of the “managerial skills needed” reflex.

In Dom Mladih they are able to secure resources, they plan, they coordinate among themselves and with public institutions, they assign roles and tasks, they keep relations with their audience, they network, they maintain the premises and on top of that, they produce content that is alive and true. There is no marketing and fake glossiness. Maybe a bit of self indulgence, but hey.

And here is the point. There is no marketing.

It may be for lack of interest (“art should never be profitable”, “my audience will connect with my art”) or because of lack of skills, “artistic” contexts often lack the “connection to market”. It probably also contributes the back of mind feeling that marketing has basically become an extractive house of lies and deceptions based on fake news, and that nobody with a grain of salt would get near it.

So is it more that artists, (some) designers and the rest of creative profile actually abound in advanced managerial skills and they’re just missing (a certain form of) marketing?

Or is it even beyond? Could it be that “artists” are already active in a different market, which is more sensitive to societal and (often) environmental dimensions, beyond profit only? Could it be that by training “artists” to be “good managers” we are actually doing more harm than good?

Could creative entrepreneurship be a form of what in the EU institutions is known as “Social Economy”, and that some of us call the “regenerative economy”, or “regenerative entrepreneurship”?

And finally, could it be that our support to creative cultures implies that we stop funding and celebrating any form of marketing that turns people into buying drones, while bringing their “top management” in court for ecocide and mass deception?

Ai posteri l’ardua sentenza.

a carpet of brown leaves of various size

Let’s play!

Can you tell the all the names of the trees in this picture? Click on the eye icon on the right of this page to view the full picture, or right click on the image above to download the full size version. You can set it as your screen background if you like!

The first to spot all the species will receive an A4 size framed print. The winner will be announced on November 17th.

Answer in the comment sections below!

livepods.base

Livepods base started in January 2021 in full COVID-19 lock down on a plot that includes a one-story bungalow built in the ’70s and a 2000m2 garden in the back. The plot is located close to Wavre but still on the Flemish side of Belgium. The plot is managed by a team of two: Zuzana and myself.

The idea was to use part of the plot to start an edible garden following the principles of permaculture. With a little research, we discovered that the plot already had several fruit trees, including two cherry trees, a medlar, two plum trees, a hazelnut, a walnut and an apple tree.

We decided to use the apple tree as the center of the edible garden, which fans out around it on the south side. A corridor marks the North axis. We started the plots by covering the existing grass lawn with cardboard, compost and hay. We did not dig, we planted directly in hay. We let all plants grow, flourish and seed.

In our second year, we are starting to harvest without planting. Just to give an idea, on a harvest of 70kg of potatoes, almost half was produced by potatoes we did not plant. Next year we are planning to just harvest what grows from what we left in.

In addition, eight plots are already completely covered by spontaneous spinach, lamb lettuce, rucola, mixed salad and peas.

We are now moving from permaculture to Fukuoka’s principles of natural agriculture. The plots may remain as initial starting beds, but they will eventually be absorbed by the plants.

The plot, after almost two year, has a lot of additions to it, marked in green below. We have a chicken area, some additional fruit trees, a strawberry patch, blackberry, raspberry and more. Everything will be covered in future updates, when we work on it. This post is about the update on weekend of Sept. 17th and 18th, 2022.

September 17th update

This Saturday was about preparing the ground for a border of sunflowers, peas, beans and pumpkin. We used the same method as when we prepared the initial plots, except this time we moved the ground below. I will address in a post what happens when you move the ground, but in this case we needed it.

The compost is organic and sourced from Vera Tuincentrum at 45€ per cubic meter. We will leave it for the full winter and will plant a mix of seeds in Spring. Can’t wait, really.

September 18th update

Sunday was dedicated to inoculating the logs of Birch that we sourced from a dead tree in our plot. The tree was cut approximately a month ago, I placed the logs under the branches of the trees that run from the pear three to the birch.

The spawn come from Homegreen, I bought Chicken of the wood, Lions’ mane, Summer Oyster, Pioppino and Shiitake, 100 dovels each at 11,90€ per packet.

Here’s the layout of where they are.

layout mushrooms

Zuzana buried the fallen apples under one of the patch, to make an apple compost patch for next spring’s pumpkin and zucchini.