Project seeks to see how San Anton Palace can be made more energy efficient
A project regarding the sustainable regeneration of San Anton Palace has been ongoing for two years, Project Lead Architect Amber Wismayer said yesterday, while launching a workshop to discuss ideas with other architects as well as persons of interest.
In designing energy efficient buildings, attention is gradually reverting to the passive design principles developed over centuries of experience. These strategies include natural ventilation, solar orientation, thermal mass and the use of traditional features, such as the loggia.
Maltese vernacular architecture often exhibits these elements. The heritage building typology, therefore, offers huge potential in reducing emissions and energy demand at a national level.
The event workshop presenting the project forms part of an initiative which seeks to address how to maximise energy savings in heritage buildings by using San Anton Palace as a case study.
Architect Wismayer explained that studies have shown that significant energy savings can be achieved without impinging on the cultural and architectural value of built heritage. Notwithstanding this, proposals designed to improve the energy performance of such structures must face the challenge of harmoniously merging several different aspects.
These include: respecting the protection status of historic features; satisfying modern requirements generated by the new use; retaining balanced environmental conditions for artefacts; and achieving comfort requirements for occupants. The optimum retrofit should result in a rational balance of these components.
The work being carried out by Architect Wismayer seeks to support the development of an effective strategy by identifying and assessing keys aspects of the energy efficient retrofit of heritage buildings.
While the Palace is acting as a case study, she said that the project aims to support the development of a strategy to improve energy performance of heritage buildings, while conserving cultural and heritage values. “Reducing energy costs in heritage buildings presents challenges, as any intervention must respect building’s historic characteristics. This area, she said, is well protected by Planning Authority which offers blanked protection of such buildings.
“It seeks to optimise the passive design features inherent to this typology, in order to maximise energy efficiency. However, as we all know, green design is not necessarily comfortable design, and this is particularly true of heritage buildings, where lifestyle and expectations of comfort at the time when they were built differs greatly from modern day notions”.
She stressed that one cannot ignore the human factor, thus meaning that occupant behaviour directly impacts the building’s energy efficiency.
“The project seeks to achieve a balance between energy conservation, heritage value and occupant comfort. Occupant behaviour is not just linked to comfort, but also to functionality”.
Given that the heritage element at the Palace is recognised immediately, they chose to explore the changes that the building was subjected to, in terms of how and why interventions were made over time.
A number of surveys were conducted in every room, gathering information on listing material, apertures, lighting strategies etc. Interviews with occupants and staff were also conducted, regarding the building’s comfort and functionality in terms of their perspectives and expectations, while attempting to identify problems with layout, furnishings, lighting etc.
“Half of respondents said that they open and close windows and doors to allow fresh air in. The other half don’t as they are unable to for a variety of reasons. Moreover, those who do still depend heavily on air conditioning and artificial lighting”.
She explained that the project is ongoing, and they recently placed sensors in every room, monitoring CO2 levels, humidity, temperature etc.
Addressing those present, Sustainable Development Minister Jose Herrera spoke positively of the case study, saying that it could help improve energy efficiency and promote climate action.
“Given Malta’s abundance of heritage buildings, there is ample room for eco refurbishment, yet it remains generally unacknowledged. This initiative is welcome as touches on an area which has been inadequately addressed”.
The workshop is being held under the auspices of the President of Malta, with the participation of the President’s Foundation for the Well-Being of Society, the University of Bath, UK, the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, UK, and the Faculty for the Built Environment, University of Malta.