Speech by President von der Leyen at the New European Bauhaus collateral event during the 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia

Dear Lesley Lokko,

Magnifico Rettore, Benno Albrecht,

Mayor Brugnaro,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A very warm welcome to all the young faces and students I see here, and the teachers of this University. It is an enormous privilege to join you here in the breathtaking city of Venice. I have the pleasure to be here with my Commissioner, Elisa Ferreira. And I feel very honoured to be here at the Biennale, one of the most important events for architects and designers. It is the first time that the European Union takes part in the Biennale of architecture with a dedicated event. And it is also my first time here in the beautiful city of Venice. And I must say I am absolutely stunned.

And I think you know this feeling, the first time you came here, it is amazing when you come to the venue by boat. At that time, I started to understand what Montesquieu meant when he had said: ‘You may have seen many cities in the world, almost all cities in the world, but when you see Venice, you will be surprised.’ And he is so right. Indeed, Venice is a world’s marvel. Here in Venice, generations of architects have created a unique balance between man-made beauty and natural beauty. So I think there could be no better place to have the Biennale and the New European Bauhaus here in Venice. And I am very glad that you have as title of this year’s Biennale ‘The Laboratory of the Future’. Because the New European Bauhaus is indeed just that: It is a laboratory of the future.

It has already been said that this month, Italy has once again suffered from the devastating impact of climate change. Yesterday, I was in Emilia-Romagna. I have seen the vast amount of land that is covered with water. I have seen the mudslides, the countless scars in the landscape. I have seen these incredible amounts of mud. And when I walked through the streets that were filled with mud, of course the first impression is that you are struck by the devastating damage this natural force can develop. But I must tell you that I was also struck by the amazing reaction of the people in Emilia-Romagna. They worked tirelessly to clean not only their own houses but showed an enormous solidarity to help their neighbours. We have seen the so-called angels in the mud. Countless volunteers from all over Italy. ‘Angeli nel fango.’ We have seen the rescuers coming from France, Belgium, Slovenia and Slovakia. And it was very good that I could, at that moment, tell the people of Emilia-Romagna: You are not alone, Europe is by your side. You know the motto: ‘Tin bòta. L’Europa è con voi.’ And it is also important not only to be here at the moment being, but of course to support the region also when it is about reconstruction. And reconstruction is finding the balance again between nature and the built environment. Our Recovery Plan, NextGenerationEU, which is a far-reaching plan and not for the actual damage right now, has – and that is good – around EUR 6 billion for Italy to reduce the risk, for example, of floods and mudslides. For instance, we will restore the bed of the river Po, removing concrete, we will reactivate lateral branches, we will bring nature basically back to the river. Because I am deeply convinced that we must make nature our ally, otherwise we will never manage to really fight climate change.

The damages that humans have done to climate are of course also very much visible when you are here in Venice. I was told that by the end of the century, the water level in Venice could rise from a minimum of at least 30 centimetres to a maximum of over 1 metre. We cannot avert the worst-case scenario, but we can do everything to fight climate change and therefore reduce the impact and reduce the damage that is being done. And there, the most important part is – and that is why we are here – that we work hard on cutting emissions through the way we build and heat our homes, so that we slow down the effects of climate change, and of course by that also slow down the rise of the sea level. And we know that we can do it. We can do it with a better use of energy and water. We can use natural materials, like for example timber. We can use more renovations of existing buildings. To preserve our planet and the beauty of our planet, we must urgently transform the way we build and heat our homes. And this is essentially what the New European Bauhaus is all about.

There is another connection between Venice and the New European Bauhaus. The Venetian Republic was home to – you know him all – Andrea Palladio, a famous master of the Renaissance, and one of the most influential architects of all times. His legacy lies not only in the beautiful villas he left behind and in changing Venice’s skyline but also in his work on the theory of architecture. He rediscovered the ancient Latin idea that the perfect building must be durable and at the same time beautiful and useful. For centuries, architects have been inspired by this triad: durability, beauty, utility. And these three principles are basically also the three principles of the New European Bauhaus.

Durability in our understanding is sustainability. Palladio believed that a building had to stand the test of time. Today, we know that the ultimate test of time is whether we can preserve our planet for future generations. Buildings will only stand the test of time if they are built sustainably.

The second principle is beauty. Rationally, in our mind, we understand that climate action is necessary. But a sustainable building should also speak to the heart, it should touch you. With the New European Bauhaus, we want to show that the necessary can also be beautiful. We must make beauty our ally to fight climate change.

And the third element, the third principle, we have added a strong social dimension to Palladio’s idea of utility. Beauty and sustainability must be of course affordable, they must be affordable for everybody. Therefore, the third principle of the New European Bauhaus is inclusivity. Everybody should be taken along; nobody should be left behind. Beauty and sustainability must be for everyone, thus inclusive.

It has been almost three years now since we presented these three principles of the New European Bauhaus. And the enthusiasm that we have encountered so far has been overwhelming. Over 600 organisations have joined us as partners, and we are there since three years only. With their local initiatives, they have reached millions of European citizens. And the principles of the New European Bauhaus have also inspired some independent initiatives. For instance, several organisations in the wood industry have launched ‘Wood4Bauhaus’. Fashion and textile organisations have created a European Alliance for a more sustainable future of the fashion industry following the principles of the New European Bauhaus.

The New European Bauhaus has even reached beyond the borders of the European Union. The University of Harvard has created a course about the New European Bauhaus. And I must say I am very glad that we work particularly very strongly together with our friends in Ukraine. I must say very clearly that one day, after Russia’s atrocious war, we will rebuild this beautiful country of Ukraine. The brave people of Ukraine deserve our full support for this reconstruction. And we have discussed over the last months with our Ukrainian friends that, when rebuilding the country from the ashes of war, it should happen in a sustainable way.

So the New European Bauhaus is showing the way while we are training Ukrainian municipalities. Architects, engineers and urban planners from the European Union and from Ukraine are sharing their expertise on how to rebuild Ukraine sustainably. I was very glad to hear from the Mayor this morning that the Port of Venice is also twinning with the Port of Odesa to also bring the knowledge, the expertise and immediately the sustainable way to rebuild the Port of Odesa. What means ‘sustainable rebuilding’? For example, that we take the debris the destruction of war and recycle them, from the destroyed buildings, for rebuilding new ones. So, with the support of the European Union and of the New European Bauhaus community, I am deeply convinced that Ukraine can be rebuilt not just as it was, but as the young people of Ukraine want it to be: more sustainable, more inclusive, and even more beautiful. This is a goal I think we all share, that Ukraine will overcome this war and that Ukraine will rise again.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Italy has responded with extraordinary enthusiasm to the New European Bauhaus. Over 100 partners and friends of the New Europeans Bauhaus are Italians, including the University, of course, that is hosting us today in these beautiful premises, and the Venice Urban Lab. There are three stories from the New Europeans Bauhaus community in Venice and in Italy’s North-East that have really impressed me. And I want to share these stories with you. It is a story from the sea, it is a story from the mountains, and it is a story from the frontier. So let me guide you through these three stories and landscapes before I conclude with what lies ahead of us.

The first story is from right here in Venice, from two waterfront neighbourhoods called San Basilio and Santa Marta. These two neighbourhoods – you know it better than me – used to be home to fishermen and their families. In the summer nights, the fishermen and fisherwomen would gather on the beach, they would roast their fish, they would chat through the night, they would attract people from all over Venice, they would celebrate the night and the day. But then factories and warehouses conquered the space only to be abandoned during the last century. And that is how you know these neighbourhoods.

Today, life is coming back to these communities. This University, together with Ca’ Foscari, the Mayor and the Port Authority, have joint a project called Bauhaus of the Seas Sails. It is one of the first six demonstrator projects of the New European Bauhaus. And indeed, San Basilio and Santa Marta are basically rejuvenated. You – the ones who are working here together on the project – are creating new student residences, you are creating new economic activities and focus on sustainable fishery, you are creating new public spaces to reconnect the two neighbourhoods with the waterfront. With the Bauhaus of the Seas, you can basically restore the natural bond between this beautiful city and the sea.

Now let me take you away from the lagoon for a moment, and up to the mountains that you can see – I was told – from Venice on clear days. In Südtirol / Alto Adige, a group of local associations, together with the Province and the University of Bozen, have created a New European Bauhaus Lab project called ‘Bauhaus of the Mountains’. They are convening people from different backgrounds: architects, farmers, sculptors, scientists, designers, even DJs. And they are working together on new ideas for the built environment in the Alps. They are setting up art exhibits on mountain tops. They are planning affordable and sustainable homes for young professionals. It is a bottom-up experience that is bringing the Bauhaus spirit up to the mountains.

Finally, after the sea and the mountains, comes the frontier. I am not only talking about the frontier between countries but also between human civilisation and nature. The third story comes from a small village called Topolò. It is somewhere lost in the woods on the border between Italy and Slovenia. There was a small village, and this village was almost entirely abandoned. But some young artists and architects started to move in again. They  decided to preserve the ancient beauty of the place to avoid building new structures. Instead, they turned every empty building across the village into some shared spaces where they can work together, they can eat together, they can create art together – you name it. They have turned the whole village into one common home. And for this they have won a New European Bauhaus Prize last year – rightly so.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you can see, Italy is an important driver of the New European Bauhaus and an endless source of inspiration and innovation for our movement. Today, I would like to say thank you for that. These projects show not only the diversity, the beauty of the New European Bauhaus but also the impact of the initiative, that is only ongoing for three years now, has gotten. Today, the New European Bauhaus Community has grown so much that you have asked us to establish local chapters of the New European Bauhaus. I know that Venice’s local chapter is meeting for the first time on the occasion of the Biennale. Other local chapters are being set up all across the European Union, for example in Sweden, in Spain, in Germany, in Latvia – you name it. And there are many familiar faces here in the audience that are working tirelessly on that. So, I hope you can feel the same joy as I do that the New European Bauhaus idea is finally up and running. That is good, I am glad about it.

For us in the European institutions, there is now one important question. This is how to keep supporting you and your impressive mobilisation. One important tool is the New European Bauhaus Academy. First Academy pioneer hubs are being established as we speak. The Academy will train construction professionals on sustainability, circularity and bio-based materials. Because there is a massive need of skilled workers. And we will back the New European Bauhaus with more funding. So far, we have invested over EUR 100 million in projects that follow the principles of the New European Bauhaus. Another EUR 100 million is secured for this and next year. And, in the European Commission, we are currently working on a concept to support our NEB community even better in the long term.

Ultimately, the New European Bauhaus belongs to you. In a year from now, we will celebrate the second NEB Festival. And two years from now, I hope we can meet again at the Biennale. As the great Paolo Portoghesi said: Architects have a responsibility ‘not only towards the small piece of land they are working on, but towards the whole world.’ And he is so right. This is the spirit of the New European Bauhaus.

Thank you for listening, and long live Europe.

Source: Press corner – Speech by the President: NEB event at La Biennale di Venezia- EU Commission

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