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CSIopinion: SIE Interviews Livia Tirone

Livia Tirone is the Co-founder of Tirone Nunes, a Portuguese real estate company and architectural practice which, from 1989, has been dedicated to designing and promoting “bio-climatic” and sustainable buildings. Tirone Nunes has spear headed sustainability in the real estate market since the early 1990s, creating over 200 dwellings and over 4.000 metre square of office and commercial space, the best known probably being Torre Verde (the first residential bio-climatic tower in EXPO ’98, Lisbon).

Tirone Nunes then adapted their strategy, and repositioned itself to become a change agent for sustainability in the construction sector with the launch of the Sustainable Construction Initiative in Portugal. The initiative reaches directly over 4.000 people annually via a dynamic programme of communication actions and continuous professional development activities and an online portal on this subject, in no small part due to the publication of the Portuguese-language book “Sustainable Construction in the Mediterranean Climate Region,” that has since become the reference for professionals and lay people in the field.

Personally, Livia nominated as Delegate Administrator of the Lisbon Municipal Energy and Environment Agency, and in that role she widened the scope of the Agency’s interaction with the city and focussed on defining the energy and environmental strategy with specific performance targets for the city. She also initiated the kick off for the local electrical vehicle charging grid, the first secondary water supply for urban hygiene, and watering of green areas.

More recently, in 2010 together with a group of key institutions and actors, the Sustainable Construction Living Lab was made a member of the European Network of Living Labs, focussing its work on the robust and innovative solutions for building refurbishment.

What is bio-climatic design? What are the challenges of implementing this kind of design?

Bio-climatic design and sustainable construction, share the same values and vision – to provide excellent living conditions for people, relying only minimally on finite resources. The know-how and technologies we require to do this are widely available to design and construct buildings that are climate responsive – these are buildings that bring only the best of the local climate into the indoor environment. Generally, therefore, the better the local climate the simpler it is to reach excellent energy environmental performance levels with only passive means (a well performing building envelope).

The challenges of implementing this widely are the same as proposing any change in common practices – the inertia of change! Change implies motivation and constant reminding until the old, bad habits are broken... and this is where communication, on-going professional development and on-going monitoring of buildings’ performance are critical.

Your book is called “Sustainable Construction in the Mediterranean Climate Region.” How does this kind of construction differ from sustainable construction in other regions? What lessons can those in Northern and Eastern European countries take away?

Good buildings need to be climate responsive, culture specific and risk adapted. This implies that it is impossible to adopt (copy) “ready made” solutions from other locations, which have different context characteristics.

But we can learn a lot from good practices everywhere – the values, for example are the same wherever you are! We all require robust buildings that offer health and comfort and are long lasting, we all want buildings to use resources in the most efficient way possible, we also need them to tell us what resources (energy, water...) we are using at any given time (transparent), we require our buildings to be effective and fit for purpose, we want them to be intelligent relying primarily on renewable resources, to be prepared, storing the transformed renewable resources so they can be available on demand and connected to intelligent and two directional grids, so as to put all the resources to the best use possible.

As Delegate Administrator for the Lisbon Municipal Energy and Environment Agency, you set specific performance targets for the city of Lisbon. Historically, those working in the environmental and social innovation movements have found it difficult to precisely measure positive impact. Did you experience this while setting performance targets for the city?

I would say that more than measuring the impacts it is the culture of “measuring” that is difficult yet essential to implement. Measuring improvement starts from measuring the “status quo” and often cities (their decision makers) worry about what inefficiencies may surface if they begin to measure. This is why getting cities to measure their performance in the critical flows they generate (energy, water, materials) is a first, big and important step in itself! The next enormous challenge is to get cities to accept making this measured information available city wide, in real time and in a language all citizens can understand! Setting targets comes as a natural step after this measuring culture is put in place as, once available, urban managers soon take the available information to improve their city’s performance.

What was your role in launching the electrical car grid in Lisbon? How long do you think it will be before city travel is fully sustainable? What are the drivers and what are the barriers?

In Lisbon all that was needed to kick-start the electrical vehicle paradigm shift was to bring the right actors around the table and to facilitate their collaboration, and this I was able to do. For cities to become more sustainable, though, first it is important to understand that Humanity doesn’t need to remain reliant on cars (even if all electrical) nor on eternal commuting!

Mobility is not the pressing urban challenge cities face - accessibility is. If cities are designed to allow living and working in sufficient proximity for people to access both with soft or public modes of transport, cars become less of a critical everyday issue for cities. Sustainability in transport is thus closely interlinked with urban planning.

When looking at electrical mobility naturally it is the most effective means of transport in cities, especially if the electrical batteries in the cars can have a two way relationship with the electrical grid, storing electricity when there is a surplus of renewable input and making it available when demand needs to be met.

What are the goals of the Sustainable Construction Living Lab? How has participation in the European Network of Living Labs enriched your work?

The goal of Sustainable Construction Living Lab is to create effective contents that support mainstreaming sustainable refurbishment. This Living Lab has become a relevant interaction platform involving the relevant actors of the construction sector to discuss visions, assert values, identify robust and innovative solutions and individually and collectively validate sustainable construction systems for the refurbishment of the existing building stock in Portugal.

We are preparing for internationalization and have therefore not yet been able to actively reap the benefits of the European dimension; nonetheless we do keep in touch with the European Network of Living Labs’ activities.

Livia Tirone