Green Europe will be built on rammed-earth walls, wooden pillars and recycled shipping containers – at least according to the winners of a new European Union initiative. The New European Bauhaus, announced by EU leaders last year as a style for the continent’s green transformation, is starting to take shape. In September, the European Commission awarded €30,000 (US$35,000) each to 10 projects that best illustrate the movement’s values of sustainability, aesthetics and inclusion. “Change is not only possible, but already happening all over our European Union, in all sectors of our economy,” said commission president Ursula von der Leyen when the winners were revealed. “The New European Bauhaus combines the big vision of the European Green Deal with tangible change on the ground to improve our daily life.” The EU wants Europe to become the first climate-neutral continent, cutting greenhouse-gas emissions by 55 per cent in 2030 from 1990 levels, and reaching net zero emissions by mid-century. To achieve that, it plans to spend US$1.1 trillion on sustainable investments over the next decade, as well as at least US$116 billion up to 2027 to support workers in regions most affected by the green transition. European leaders want the arts – especially architecture and design – to be a part of this transformation. The continent’s old buildings, which are responsible for about 40 per cent of energy consumption, will go through deep renovations. But they also need a new look that defines net-zero Europe in the same way that the Bauhaus school’s modernist designs reshaped the West and the industrial era in the early 20th century. Architects Anna Heringer and Martin Rauch designed a guest house in Rosenheim, Germany for an alternative-medicine retreat with materials that can be found locally. Housing Society designs adaptable flats for Hong Kong’s ageing population Rammed-earth walls, mud plastering and floors, handcrafted ceramics and a timber structure form a nestlike structure next to a forest and surrounded by two arms of the Mangfall river. Natural materials aren’t perfect, and that’s good, the architects said in their submission to the awards. “I’m particularly happy that my first building in Europe is located in Rosenheim, the town where I was born,” said Heringer, who is best known for designing sustainable buildings in countries like Bangladesh and Morocco. “And to prove that yes, it is possible to build with the same approach and ethics in Bavaria as in Bangladesh.” The village of Los Santos de Maimona, in the Spanish region of Extremadura, was once known for its giant cement factory. A tall concrete building built in the 1950s during the Franco dictatorship, it had been abandoned for decades when a handful of people took over the space in 2009 and decided to give it a new purpose. Now, La Fábrika de Toda la Vida hosts initiatives including an open-air independent cinema, a workshop that focuses on sustainable building and architecture, a music label that promotes rural artists and an initiative to restore native vegetation and regenerate polluted soil around the factory. New green spaces and large, colourful graffiti soften the building’s brutalist aesthetic, which appears even more shocking in the rural landscape. Elsewhere in Spain, Barcelona decided to fight gentrification with old shipping containers. The Aprop project (short for proximity temporary affordable housing) was started in 2019 to provide fast and affordable accommodation to people forced from homes in the Catalan capital’s central district. The building is made of shipping containers, reformed and aligned into a health facility on the ground floor and 12 one- and two-bedroom flats on the four upper floors. Recycled materials, thermal insulation and a design that maximises sun in winter and shade in summer means the project uses 25 per cent less energy and emits 54 per cent less greenhouse gas than a conventional building. Imagine cycling to work every morning on a public bike. As you arrive at your destination, an app tells you how much carbon dioxide you’ve avoided emitting and how many green credits you earned for the ride. Then, you decide whether to exchange these tokens for green goods or services, or to sell them to local companies. This is the utopian-sounding experiment that CEiiA, a research centre set up by the Portuguese car industry, has put in place in Matosinhos, in the country’s north. The AYR platform started working in November 2020 and has so far reached a third of the city’s 175,000 inhabitants. Renaissance design meets minimalism in Hong Kong flat makeover Over the first six months, the pilot programme averted the production of 16.4 metric tonnes (18.1 tons) of carbon dioxide, but could avert over 1,800 metric tons annually when it is scaled up. By 2030, the platform targets 54,000 metric tons and, if all credits are bought by local companies to offset their emissions, US$13.9 million to invest in carbon neutrality. Meanwhile, an urban garden retreat floats over a 19th-century block of 10 buildings in Barcelona’s port district. High above the city buzz, architecture firm MataAlta Studio built a rooftop garden on the iconic Porxos d’en Xifré complex. It features ponds, insect hotels and nesting structures. The garden is home to more than 10,000 native plants, selected for their aromatic, pollinator-friendly, drought-resistant and pollution-filtering qualities. The firm used no Portland cement, whose manufacture emits carbon dioxide, and opted for recycled-brick-waste gravel, reclaimed wood from the building and other local timber. Solar panels on the Xifré rooftop provide energy to a LED lighting system and irrigation pumps, with power surplus feeding into the city’s grid. Rain is used for irrigation and it’s stored in a 9,000-litre (2,400-gallon) cistern at the ground level, which ensures water for two months. Green manure and composting techniques fertilise the soil.