Mrs. Livia Tirone, architect and co-founder of the Portuguese architectural practice and real estate promotion company Tirone Nunes


Following her participation in the second Eco-Innovation forum on “Markets for Sustainable Construction”, Mrs. Livia Tirone speaks to us about sustainable construction, eco-design and relevant legislation.

  • Mrs. Tirone, you participated in the second Eco-Innovation forum on “Markets for Sustainable Construction” which was held in Brussels on 11 June 2007. What was the outcome of this event?

In my view, it is very important that all actors in the construction sector have access to the political positioning and strategic vision of the European Commission in their field. This was well communicated in the presentation by Maria da Graça Carvalho, principal advisor to the President of the European Commission, who clearly stated that cities must strive for carbon neutrality.

This positioning was strengthened by Timo Makela’s presentation that looked at the construction sector from a life cycle perspective and at the European Commission’s strategy to intervene and improve performance.

The fact that there were various opportunities for dialogue with the audience, meant that the variety of issues discussed was quite broad and based on very varied experiences.

The outcome therefore, for me, was that the desire to strive for carbon neutral cities, although extremely challenging, is quite consensual, and that very imaginative steps therefore need to be taken in every area of the sector, to achieve improvements in performance within the necessary time scale.

  • Why do you have such an interest in eco-design and sustainable development?

It is a question of attitude and conscience. I have been practicing exclusively sustainable construction since the late 1980s (always implementing the best possible solutions), and taking into account the context of our planet and the need to move towards sustainable development, I don’t see how it is possible to practice any other way.

  • What are the environmental advantages of eco-designed buildings for the people who live in them?

Certainly the advantages include healthy indoor environments (where we in Europe spend 90% of our time), environmental comfort (thermal, acoustic and visual) and lower utility bills (energy, water, waste).

Eco-designed buildings especially benefit the people who live in them – both in the short term, as they enjoy the resulting comfort and lower bills, and in the long term, as the planet’s well being will provide a more welcoming climate.

As it is they that enjoy the benefits, end users are the biggest allies of eco-design. Through the energy certification of buildings, the Energy Performance in Buildings Directive recognizes this fact and empowers the end user, by incorporating the energy performance dimension as a differentiating factor in his / her choice of building.

Nonetheless it is very important that people’s behaviour also contributes to the improvement of the environmental performance of buildings, and this requires further measures such as ongoing monitoring and display mechanisms.

  • What is the extra cost when you buy an eco-designed building? What is the expected payback for such an investment?

In the Mediterranean climate region – and in the housing sector – there really need be no extra charge for sustainable construction, as the measures rely on traditional ingredients put together in new ways (the innovation is more in the recipe than in the ingredients).

The increase in the quality of the building envelope components can have an extra cost in relation to current practice as it implies increased insulation, improved glazing, more efficient systems, etc. These costs can usually be incorporated in the development costs without having an impact on the selling price. If, nonetheless, there is an increase in the selling price this also has an awareness-raising effect on the market – because it creates a direct link between the added environmental value and the economical value.

  • Is there a European network of architects that works on sustainable buildings? If yes, what is its role?

The European Housing Ecology Network convenes twice a year and focuses on discussing the ways to overcome barriers in the implementation of good practice in sustainable construction and on disseminating this good practice.

The Architects’ Council of Europe has a working group on sustainable architecture that also convenes about twice a year, focussing more on policy aspects than on good practice.

  • Is it easy to reconcile eco-designed buildings with aesthetic qualities?

Absolutely! In my almost 20 years of practice I have never encountered any aesthetic restrictions due to sustainable construction. And there are no restrictions on style either – a sustainable building can look ancient or modern, vernacular or minimalist…

  • How do you reconcile some contradictory aspects of low energy buildings, such as highly insulated buildings and good air quality?

By working together with the engineers and manufacturers from very early on in the project, to guarantee adequate air changes for the intended use.

  • What are the specificities of eco-design buildings in Portugal?

In short – the building envelope needs to be able to allow only the best of the local climate into the indoor environment and to keep the extreme weather out. This is achieved by adequate solar orientation and proportion of glazing areas, external shading, good insulation systems (preferably external insulation to avoid thermal bridges), good double glazing, high amounts of thermal mass working in favour of the indoor environment and using the renewable energy of the sun for the heating of domestic hot water. There are also many more measures beyond these.

  • Who is boosting the development of the eco building sector?

The main boost comes from the government, the energy agencies and also from some private sector companies. But there is still a lot of incoherence in the messages that reach the general public and the construction sector.

  • You have been working as a consultant for the European Commission on the Buildings Energy Efficiency Directive. What impact do you think this legislation will have?

I think this legislation is one of the most intelligent to reach the Member States, as it empowers the end user. The legislation does not only lead to the improved environmental performance of a building but also to an increase in awareness of thisimprovement on the side of the end user. I believe that if it is adequately implemented in all Member States, it will have a verypositive and long-lasting effect on the construction sector and therefore on the built environment.

  • Which measure in the field of sustainable building would you recommend making compulsory?

Taxes and incentives should encourage energy efficiency and bureaucracy must facilitate the implementation of renewable energy systems in buildings. Thus, VAT on insulation materials, double glazing and external shading devices should be clearly lower than the VAT on electricity or gas.

Please tell us about the Altener Houses project.

Over 300 dwellings in Portugal, Spain and, initially, Denmark were improved in terms of their energy performance due to this European Commission project and support. Please refer to the Tirone Nunes web site: http://www.tironenunes.pt.

  • What is your greatest achievement to date?

Our greatest achievement to date is probably the fact that we have been able to survive on the Portuguese market although the company has only been designing and promoting sustainable construction since 1989. Having made that rather cynical statement, I have to say that the fact that many hundreds of people live in very comfortable and healthy conditions in houses and apartments we have designed and promoted is our most important achievement.

Contact:   Livia Tirone: http://www.tironenunes.pt, mail@tironenunes.pt

For more information about theforum on Eco-Innovation about “Markets for Sustainable Construction”, please see http://ec.europa.eu/environment/archives/ecoinnovation2007/index.htm


The European Housing Ecology Network (EHEN)

  • Network of housing associations, local authorities and consultants
  • Specialising in energy efficiency and sustainability in the construction sector
  • 50 member organisations from 14 EU member states

For more information please visit: http://www.ehen.com


The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD)

  • In force since January 2003 and to be incorporated into national legislation by January 2006
  • Introduces a common methodology to calculate the energy performance of a building
  • Member States have to determine minimum standards for the energy performance of buildings
  • Certification of energy performance for the end users
  • Regular inspection of boilers and air conditioning systems over a certain size

For more information please visit: http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/energy/energy_efficiency/l27042_en.htm


The Altener Program

The Altener Projects are now part of the Intelligent Energy Europe program.

For more information please visit: http://ec.europa.eu/energy/intelligent/index_en.html