New European Bauhaus

22 September, 2021

Hamburg project of a 65m wooden "skyscraper", one of the star projects of the New European Bauhaus.
Hamburg project of a 65m wooden "skyscraper", one of the star projects of the New European Bauhaus.

The European Commission misses no chance to stress that the New European Bauhaus is “the soul” and “the dream” of the European Green Deal. It has just approved an additional 85 million euros to “create a new, inclusive and affordable lifestyle with less CO2“. But what is the New European Bauhaus? Where do they want us to live? Wooden skyscrapers? Prefabricated houses that can be assembled in 24 hours? Cardboard cabins?

Table of Contents

What does the New European Bauhaus respond to?

The profitability of housing investment has stagnated… and with it that of construction. The Green Deal, with its massive funds and its regulations guaranteeing the absence of alternatives, represents a “golden opportunity” for the construction industry to participate in the new “green” capital market, recapitalize and increase margins through a change in building systems.

What does this have to do with the original Bauhaus?

Le Corbusier's Cité Radieuse in Marseille (1960)
Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse in Marseille (1960)

The reference to the original Bauhaus is, for once, honest. The Bauhaus meant the total subordination of the design of living spaces to profitability needs of the capital invested in their construction.

Hence the almost total elimination of ornamentation, the refusal of sloping roofs even in rainy climates like Germany’s, and the homogenization of entire worker’s neighborhoods into dozens of gigantic and exactly identical cubes.

Shelley System, one of the 1960s US attempts to culminate the Bauhaus program
Shelley System, one of the 1960s US attempts to culminate the Bauhaus program

Once again the counterrevolutionary program in its purest expression and still in the first half of the 1920s: industrialization and mass production of housing in the view of turning housing into a new industrial export sector. And at its helm a new suite of men endowed with creative and practical abilities. We have passed from Marinetti’s reverie to the epic insertion of the Fascist petty bourgeoisie into the corporate state. […]

Until the end of the original movement, the Bauhaus will represent both the avant-garde of the spatial program of totalitarian state capitalism and the angry petty bourgeoisie. The Bauhaus is architectural fascism… even beyond and against fascism… which paradoxically allowed it to survive intact with an air of resistance even in the postwar period. Then its principles will not only turn reconstructed Germany into a massive cubic horror, its logic will be the universal form of social housing, class segregation and the workers’ ghetto.

Bauhaus, 6/25/2021

On the edge, the “modern program” meant stacking workers in prefabricated cubes minimizing construction labor time. That was the goal of its founder when he left for the US. The US government itself tried it on a large scale in the 1960s. But to succeed it would have required a change in regulation that only now, with the Green Deal, seems both feasible and necessary to capital. The New European Bauhaus promises to culminate what it did not then.

Will the industrialized houses of the New European Bauhaus be cheaper?

The industrialization of housing associated with the New European Bauhaus will bring buildings that will literally be stacked cubes
The industrialization of housing associated with the New European Bauhaus will bring buildings that will literally be stacked cubes

The production of industrialized houses, which will be the most characteristic expression of the New European Bauhaus, moves part of the production to a factory, so it has shorter execution times on site, up to 50% and a reduction in labor cost of around 15%, due mainly to the de-skilling of the labor employed – a very Bauhaus idea and an ubiquitous trend in capitalism.

But, until now, they were not competitive because despite lower spending on wages, total costs were higher. The time for change has come with the Green Deal legislation. These systems produce 80% less waste on site and promise to reduce CO2 emissions. And from now on building firms will pay emission rights proportionally to those emissions.

The intensive use of capital, however, requires larger scales than traditional construction. As a senior manager of an Irish “sustainable construction” company recently stated:

You need volume; it would take 100, 200 or 300 houses, all with a particular design.

Falling cost of modular building may benefit home building, Irish Times, 4/8/2021

What will the houses of the New European Bauhaus look like?

Wall construction at the Avintia factory
Wall construction at the Avintia factory

A clear example of where the New European Bauhaus is headed is the Avintia Group, one of the first companies to create, hand in hand with Mexican giant Cemex, a housing factory in Spain. The group itself includes from energy production to a real estate, bringing together in a cartel all the major monopolists in each sub-sector, from PVC profiles to kitchens. And of course it has a proprietary construction system enclosed and shielded by intellectual property.

The works awarded to it in the first half of this year, totaling 221 million euros in budget, tell us where this model is most profitable today and where urban planning and housing will evolve when it is imposed.

Teatinos, Malaga, industrialized towers
Teatinos, Malaga, industrialized towers

Of course, the first argument is energy efficiency. But for big capital looking for placement the main argument is capital intensiveness and its profitability thanks to mass industrialization of components, reduced emissions, as well as reduced time and labor costs from certain scales.

The concentration of supply is foreseeable and with it an even greater homogeneity of new housing developments and neighborhoods for workers. Buildings of 100 dwellings on average or more, very similar to each other and arranged in space to meet the needs of the new green logistics.

The neighborhoods of the New European Bauhaus will be enclosed high-rise towers and pileups of airtight, brown and white cubes. Not so different from what we know already, just a little more homogeneous and precarious each time, as dictated by the logic of capital accumulation.