Green historical renovations in Zagreb.

Here is my interview on January 23rd on Zelena Zona, the page about sustainability of the Croatian Bank  Zagrebačka website, about

Historical Renovation using Green Principles

2015_01_27 immagine 01As an Engineer and certified Project Manager IPMA Carlo Battisti has acquired a 20 years long experience in the construction sector. He has coordinated energy audit activities on forty public buildings in the South of Italy (mostly historic ones), on behalf of the Ministry of the Environment (‘Green Communities’ Project). He has LEED AP BD+C, ID+C and LFA (Living Future Accredited) and actually works as sustainable innovation consultant. As a member of the Standard Committee ‘GBC Historic Building’ of the Green Building Council Italy, is involved in implementing a certification protocol focused on historic buildings. His lecture within the fifth module of Green building professional education (GBPro) 2014/2015 in Zagreb is about historical renovations using sustainable principles. It was an opportunity to ask him some questions.

Are the sustainable principles incorporated in European and worldwide regulatory framework for renovation of historical buildings?

2015_01_27 immagine 03Not really, if we think first of all that according to the 2012/27/EU Directive member states may decide not to set or apply the requirements to buildings officially protected or with special architectural or historical merit, in so far as compliance with certain minimum energy performance requirements would unacceptably alter their character or appearance. But if we consider that approximately one third of the building stock in Europe has been built before 1960, thus in many cases with an “architectural merit” but poor energy performances and we want to reach Europe 20-20-20 goals we cannot ignore this type of buildings.

According to your experience, what is the biggest obstacle in historical renovations using sustainable principles? Are that conservators, a lack of financial resources, ownership or local and national lack of knowledge and information or something else?

All the factors you mentioned are present and relevant. In my experience technical problems generally can be solved, also because innovation in constructions’ sector has provided new solutions so far. Obviously lack of financial resources is generally considered by stakeholders the main bottleneck. In the case of buildings with historic importance, however, it’s not only a matter of business opportunity; there is also a social mission to be considered: the conservation of our cultural heritage for the future generations.

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Ca’ Foscari – Venice (image Ca’ Foscari University)

Investors who are focused to achieve greater savings with the least possible investment are usually on the opposite side of the conservator – who has a basic interest in preserving the building in its original state. How to bridge this gap, what you usually say to conservationists?

The final function and intended use we want to give to a historic building have a great importance and could act as a business driver capable to attract private and public funds. If we expect large energy savings in a historic building, we pursue a wrong strategy. The key point is that the importance of the building lies in its own historical value; this increases its prestige and value on the real estate market. From this perspective, developers and conservators should be on the same side. If the goal is the same, a transparent and technically correct dialogue between conservators and designers/owners can lead to acceptable solutions, there are many examples in this sense.

2015_01_27 immagine 07One of the common problems in practice that highlight our experts is the inability to put the thermal insulation from the outside of the building due to the retention of architectural interest, so they put the thermal insulation of the inner side. Some of them say that there are a number of suitable materials on the market now which can be to supplant the such and similar problems. What is your experience?

Aerogel, for its nano-porous structure, is for instance an excellent thermal insulator and a good inhibitor convective because the air can not circulate inside, opposing an extraordinary resistance to the passage of heat flow. 30 mm of an aerogel based insulation panel has a thermal resistance equivalent to about 85-90 mm of wood fibre or rock wool panel. So we can obtain a good insulation with minimum thickness, without reducing excessively the commercial space inside. For buildings whose façade is under protection (I’m thinking for example to the buildings of the XIX° century in Zagreb) this is a very interesting solution.

Does the EU Energy Efficiency Directive contain some controversial place in terms of historic buildings? Some people argue that there are some of them.

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Weigh House, Bolzano (3encult Project)

As I mentioned before European Directive (EPBD) allows member states to be free with regard to the historic buildings, in the sense that they are exempt from the energy efficiency improvement requirements. But we know that this does not help us to reach the 2020 targets. Anyway, at the European level, the standard committees (CEN) working on conservation of cultural heritage and the ones dealing with EPBD are effectively cooperating, so the issue on how to find a good compromise between energy efficiency and historic buildings conservation is on the agenda, and there are some interesting R&D projects working in this direction.

Can you point out 2-3 examples of the world’s best historic buildings reconstruction.

There is a project that I like very much, because it is an example of a renovation process on historic buildings minimal, able to be distinguished, reversible and compatible, all characteristics that I think this type of projects should have. It’s the conversion of the Broerenherk Church  (15th century) in Zwolle (NL) into a bookstore

Another interesting case is Ca’ Foscari, the University of Venice headquarter, a Venetian Gothic palazzo built in 1453 and overlooking the Grand Canal. Now it’s the oldest LEED certified building in the world, thus overtaking the Empire State Building.

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Broerenherk Church – Zwolle NL (image BK Architecten)

What will certificate “GBC Historic Building” mean to his owners? Can we expect a similar certificate in the global or European level in the near future?

“GBC Historic Building” is born in June 2012 from an agreement between the U.S. Green Building Council and GBC Italia. To summarize, USGBC has recognized the Italian competence and knowledge about heritage conservation, while Italy already in 2009 had implemented LEED in the national market. After a two years’ work, the standard committee, of which I was a member, has come to a public “short” version of the handbook, while a “long” version is actually under evaluation. We are now in a pilot phase, with some case studies just started, and the whole certification system is to be implemented. There have been some requests from foreign countries about it, the hope of course is to export the methodological Italian experience at the European level.

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Sant’Agostino – Modena (image Progettare)

In Croatia, the owner of cultural property shall be entitled to apply for reimbursement of additional costs to be paid from the budget of the institution under whose protection the building is located (municipality, city, state). The budget is collected from monument rent that is paid by taxpayers. Do you have the same principle in Italy?

We have a similar situation in Italy. The Ministry of Heritage and Cultural Activities may require the owner to implement the necessary actions to ensure the preservation of the cultural heritage or carry out them directly. The costs are charged to the owner. However, if the measures are particularly important or are run on assets in public use, the Ministry can contribute entirely or in part to the expenses. Given that we talk about a building of public interest, I believe that this can be considered a correct approach.

What would be your recommendation to Croatian conservators and architects – how to move in a more agile application of green building principles without major (negative) impact of investors?

I think they are two important points:
– to create and consolidate a basic culture of conservation of buildings with an architectural and historic value, starting from education in the schools, in order to build a common national heritage;
– to develop a methodological approach to the problem; other countries in Europe, (e.g. Austria, Scotland) have drawn up specific guidelines, in Italy with GBC Historic Building we tried to go further by launching a certification system.
The important thing is that the architect shouldn’t decide by himself case-by-case, even arguing with the conservators, but benefit of a common platform established in cooperation among all the stakeholders.

Intervista alla rivista di architettura romena “Igloo”, febbraio 2015

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There’s only about ten days to the deadline for applications on 64-hour European competition REGENERATION organized by your company Macro Design Studio Srl and ILFI (International Living Future Institute). What kind of competition is it and to whom is intended? Is there any application from Croatia?

REGENERATION_BANNERThanks a lot for the opportunity to talk about it and I want also to thank Croatia GBC that promptly (first in Europe) helped us to spread the word. REGENERATION is the first design competition in Europe entirely based on the Living Building Challenge protocol. REGENERATION is a design workshop in which teams composed of young professionals (under 35 years) are called to develop a project of sustainable requalification of an existing public building for the local community. The purpose of the competition is to show the best sustainable regeneration project for the existing building in terms of architecture, energy efficiency, liveability and relationship with social, urban and natural context. REGENERATION is the first “generation” of young professionals (architects, engineers) that can “regenerate” with their own ideas the built environment, getting the best possible performances for the building. The competition will take place at Centrale Fies, Dro (Trento – Italy), on April 15th to 18th, 2015. We haven’t received yet applications from Croatia, so my message to young Croatian architects and engineers is “do you want to regenerate? come forward ! and remember, the deadline for applications is January 30”.

Finally, here is my interview in the TV report by Hrvatska radiotelevizija (national Croatian television). Enjoy 🙂

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