How can we make the transition to a circular future more tangible and attractive to people from all walks of life? This is the call that is answered by the Festival of the New European Bauhaus, an ambitious initiative by the European Commission which took place from 9-12 June 2022. Based in Brussels with satellite events happening in various other cities and online, the Festival brought creatives, citizens, businesses and policymakers together to reimagine sustainable living in Europe and beyond. What Design Can Do (WDCD) also took part in the programme, with an interactive exhibition showcasing the research and winners of the global No Waste Challenge.

In addition to creating a platform for experimentation and connection, the Festival also set out to ‘bring the European Green Deal closer to people’s minds and homes,’ putting culture and creativity at the heart of its bid for climate action. For four days, Brussels was awash with exhibitions, artistic performances, seminars and other gatherings exploring the New European Bauhaus values of beauty, sustainability and togetherness.

The programme was vast, which is perhaps unsurprising for an event pulling such a broad and varied audience. Many talks and panels focused on practical solutions to rebuilding or renovating Europe’s urban centres in the wake of the pandemic. One common thread throughout the Festival was exploring how creatives can contribute to a more liveable city, touching on topics like future mobility, regenerative architecture and food security. In one session, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and 2022 Pritzker Prize winner Diébédo Francis Kéré discussed why climate solutions should be both beautiful and inclusive, and what that might look like. In another, Japanese architect Shigeru Ban spoke about the value of design in times of conflict, drawing on his experience building emergency housing for refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine.

Ursula von der Leyen opens the festival. © European Union 2022.

Visitors at the festival. © European Union 2022.

Participants at a workshop. © European Union 2022.


At the Gare Maritime, the Festival also hosted a Fair, which celebrated more visual and granular examples of projects that are driving the New European Bauhaus movement. This included innovative prototypes and proposals on how sustainable design can actually make our lives easier and more fulfilling. As WDCD, we saw this platform as an opportunity to amplify the work of some of the best and brightest circular design pioneers in our network.

With the help of spatial design experts from Studio Stam, we put together a modular installation featuring the winning projects of the global No Waste Challenge. This design competition was launched by WDCD in collaboration with the IKEA Foundation in search of imaginative solutions to reduce waste and its impact on climate change. In this exhibition, we present sixteen of the most promising ideas from the total 1409 submissions. Hailing from various corners of the globe, each of the winning projects tackle a different aspect of our take-make-waste economy, from bioplastic that reduces pollution to a mobile app that promotes a culture of repair.

Besides amplifying the work of these emerging creatives, WDCD’s participation in the Festival was also about sharing our core vision with a new and different public. ‘We believe that design can contribute to the goals of the New European Bauhaus and the European Green Deal,’ explained Kenneth van Toll, who travelled to Brussels as WDCD’s Global Development Director. ‘Through our No Waste Challenge exhibition we wanted to showcase exactly how it can help people to imagine a climate neutral world, with inspiring alternatives that make this way of living possible.’

‘We believe that design can contribute to the goals of the European Green Deal.’

‘It was great to see that creatives, entrepreneurs, NGO’s, policymakers, researchers and impact investors were present at the Festival,’ she continued. ‘WDCD believes that we need to redesign the world we want to see but this can not be achieved without partnerships and involvement of all. This was also stressed by Mariya Gabriel, the EU commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth. She said during a panel session that the New European Bauhaus needs a vibrant community with multi-disciplinary collaboration to scale up ideas and demonstrate that challenges can be transformed into opportunities.’

The No Waste Challenge Exhibition. Photo: What Design Can Do.

The No Waste Challenge Exhibition. Photo: What Design Can Do.


Another aspect of the New European Bauhaus that was discussed during the Festival was the importance of funding and development programmes for the creative community. ‘This is something that WDCD has been focusing on recently,’ said Kenneth. ‘We want to create more access to funding through our Challenge programme. In the coming years we will step up our efforts to unlock greater investment in design-driven climate innovations and solutions.’

As the first ever event dedicated to the New European Bauhaus, the Festival also marked an interesting milestone in the evolution of the movement. Nearly two years after the idea was first mentioned in European Parliament, the cultural project is steadily becoming a little less complex and a little more real. If it manages to catch — and keep — the imagination of Europe’s makers, designers, architects, artists and engineers, the New European Bauhaus can become a powerful engine for systemic change.

Top image: The festival on location in Brussels. © European Union 2022.