A green makeover for Heritage Buildings

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Icons use case study city info



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Main actors

City Government, Public Utility, other

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Project area

Inner City

Icons use case study duration


2016 - 2019

A quest towards sustainable heritage.

Energetic refurbishment of heritage buildings is for many local governments complex and costly to implement. Nevertheless, renovating heritage buildings is essential to achieve climate objectives as they are often the most energy-intensive buildings in the city.

Over one hundred years old, Lisbon’s city hall is an iconic building that reflects the image of Lisbon, and of liberal and republican Portugal. It is home to the mayor’s office, and is used for city council meetings, as well as high-level receptions for national and international delegations. As it counts both as a service building and as a cultural heritage site, the challenge to renovate it by improving its energy efficiency was considerable.

This case study was contributed from Eurocities.


Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Lisbon, Portugal

Size and population development
Lisbon’s municipal city limits contain an area measuring 39 square miles (100 square kilometres) and has a population of 545,000, its metropolitan area has approximately 2.8 million people. According to the most recent census, the rate of growth has decreased in recent years. Population density is higher within the municipal area with an average 14,100 residents per square mile (5,500 per square kilometer). Over the Lisbon Metropolitan Area, density diminishes to an average 8,200 people per square mile (3,200 per square kilometer).

Population composition
The largest group- people from Portugal- make up 90.70% of the city’s population. The largest minority groups in descending order are: Brazilians (2.75%), people from Cape Verde (0.82%) and Chinese (0.57%). Second and third generation migrants make up 9.30% of the city’s population. Lisbon has a dominant Roman Catholic base, it is estimated that anywhere from 60% to 70% of the population identify as Catholic.

Main functions
Lisbon is the capital and largest city of Portugal and one of the oldest towns in Europe. It lies on the Atlantic Ocean and River Tagus and is dominated by hills and valleys. The city is the political, economic and cultural centre of Portugal, hosting the country’s seat of government, largest port and only international airport.

Main industries / business
The major industries in Lisbon include: technology, media, tourism and hospitality, automotive, shipping, textile, footwear and leather.

Sources for city budget
National government and municipal taxation.

Political structure
The Lisbon City Council (“Câmara Municipal de Lisboa” - CML) is the executive body in the Lisbon Municipality. Its mission is to define and implement policies and to promote the development of the municipality. The CML is composed of 17 locally elected officials (1 President and 16 council members), who represent the different elected political forces.

Administrative structure
Lisbon is comprised of 24 civil parishes, neighbourhoods/barrios are not defined by their geographic boundaries and therefore have no administrative units. With regards to politics, the Lisbon City Council (“Câmara Municipal de Lisboa” - CML) is the executive body in the Lisbon Municipality. Its mission is to define and implement policies and to promote the development of the municipality in several sectors. The CML is composed of 17 locally elected officials (1 President and 16 council members), who represent the different elected political forces.

According to the European Commission, at least 35% of buildings in the EU are 50 years or older, and Europe’s historic buildings are well-known for not being very energy efficient. They consume large amounts of electricity to light spacious rooms and hallways, and receive expensive bills for heating, or cooling, while lacking proper insulation. The Commission also found that service buildings, such as Lisbon’s city hall, are on average 40% more energy intensive than residential buildings.

Such numbers make it evident that it is crucial to find energy efficient solutions for these buildings to make a significant contribution to reaching the EU’s new target of a 55% reduction in emissions by 2030 – part of the Renovation Wave Strategy.

Typical renovations aimed at increasing the energy efficiency of a building would start by working on insulation.  However, insulation material would have ruined the iconic facade of the city hall and was too complex to be integrated indoors within richly gilded walls and ceilings. This left the windows and doors to improve. Again, the standard go-to solution, double-glazed aluminium or PVC windows, would not work for the city hall as the 100 windows could only be restored, so the final choice fell to renewing the existing wood frame and adding a thicker single glaze.

While the installation of the new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, and the replacement of the 2,000 chandelier light bulbs with Light-emitting diode (LED) technology were not contentious, the installation of solar panels spurred more negotiations.

The National Directorate was concerned about the visual impact that this technology could bring in terms of several panoramic views of the city. The project team procured panels in a darker colour to better blend with the roof tiles, and they carefully and strategically positioned them for sensible architectural integration.

The  lead agency for the project is the City of Lisbon together with  multiple stakeholders including the Energy and Environment Agency, Lisboa E-Nova, who was the  overall coordinator of the implementation tasks of the Sharing Cities project. They coordinated their efforts with Portugal’s Directorate-General for Cultural Heritage, charged with protecting the country’s historic treasures. With the help of digital models of the city hall created by the Technical University of Lisbon, they discussed solutions and found agreements.

Heritage building works are much more expensive than normal building works, not only because of the technical solutions that have been implemented, but due to the heritage proctocols s that companies have to follow to ensure the correct implementation of the different measures.

Lisbon’s payback time is around 10 years for the €420 thousand invested by the city, with an additional €168 thousand EU funding received through the Sharing Cities project.

While the analysis is not yet definitive, and the final impact of the renovation will be clearer with a few more years of monitoring, the numbers so far are promising. The energy consumption went from 493.72 MWh annually in 2016 (before the renovation started) to 246.93 MWh in 2019, after all solutions were implemented, a 50% decrease equivalent to 84 tons of CO2 emissions reduction.

As most heritage buildings are protected; owners have to overcome additional barriers such as strict heritage protocols and codes that make them complex to renovate.

This is an issue that the ROCK project has raised in its ‘Recommendations to decision and policy makers’, calling for creating a balance between flexibility and regulation. Based on the experiences from the project, which Lisbon is also part of, cities must be allowed to balance protection and preservation of cultural heritage with flexibility and innovation, and decisions should be based on impact assessments and stakeholder participation.

For cities that are planning similar historic renovations, Lisbon municipality suggests starting with a building assessment clearly laying out the baseline energy performance, along with what can be done and what the cost savings would be. Cities should also involve all national engineering or heritage authorities from the beginning to avoid bureaucratic surprises, and to ensure all procurement requests have the right details and restrictions.

Eurocities: A green make-over for heritage buildings


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Wilma Dragonetti
Brussels, Belgium

Wilma Dragonetti

Individual | Content editor at Eurocities

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