From Barcelona: social housing, innovation and positive energy buildings


The Spanish demo will open its doors the the new tenants in the coming weeks, so syn.ikia project partners came together for an overview of the past year in the project.

Partners were warmly welcomed by the INCASOL Director Maria Sisternas: Hopefully we will inspire the next generation of social housing thanks to syn.ikia innovations ⚡️

From Salzburg, Austria, we heard that thanks to awareness raising events, many people are interested in their sharing consumption data, ‘because I want to know my impact on the climate’. An important lesson learned is that housing providers should explain in detail how the systems of the building work, to avoid dissatisfaction at later stages, such as questions on why the energy bills are still high.

An important dimension of the work carried out through the project is the monitoring process of the SPEN demos. Data is essential to be able to improve technology. One of the syn.ikia innovations applied in the social housing Spanish demo: the presence of an energy manager. Their role: optimise the operation of centralised heating; invoice directly the tenants, and ensure maintenance of the building and the energy system. The approach of the Dutch demo, that has appointed tenant-ambassadors with the mission of accompanying all tenants with learning how to live in a SPEN, seems to be successful, as it ensures constant contact between the housing provider and the residents. In the Norwegian demo, the private owners will have the possibility to be aware of their own consumption through only a few clicks on an Internet browser.

Visiting Barcelona created the perfect opportunity to meet local representatives and discus the value of the project. ‘Changing minds and innovation are only possible when there is a will’, said Maria Sisternas. Our project coordinator Niki Gaitani highlighted the need for a neighbourhood approach to be able to achieve carbon neutrality. Above all is the social cohesion, building a special relation with the community. We need innovative financials schemes to ensure inclusivity. Julien Dijol, Housing Europe Policy Director explains trilemma of affordable, available and sustainable housing. The social sector might manage to overcome it thanks to public financial support. While usually the discussion on decarbonisation is at theoretical level, there are examples such as City of Paris, that calculated the energy consumption before and after renovation: a reduction of about 38%. Representing the Spanish public housing association AVS Jose Maria Escolastico talked about why we need to start taking housing seriously and consider it a human right. To illustrate his asks, he gave the example of the Housing Europe manifesto. In Spain there is a need to build 1.2 million houses by 2030. He concluded by saying that there is no way back to keep doing things the same way.

We discussed the potential of social and affordable housing for Sustainable Plus Energy Neighbourhoods with local representatives. Manuel Marin from Agencia de l’Habitatge de Catalunya: ‘People are not aware and do not understand the benefits of participating because they don’t have the knowledge’. Raising awareness is essential to get residents on board the energy transition. Toni Suarez Pizzaro, Deputy Mayor in Santa Coloma de Gramenet – home of syn.ikia Spanish demo: We have to work hard, to improve not only energy efficiency but also quality of life for all.

Jaume Salom from IREC research institute presented the technical aspects of the SPEN project, all thought to fit a Mediterranean climate. Final outcome: a positive energy building, producing more renewable energy than what it consumes, which will be shared with e.g. a healthcare centre. Carles Mas from INCASOL talked about the importance of collaborating with the residents in the delicate process of urban regeneration.

The second part of the event was dedicated to a panel discussion with all the four syn.ikia demos, led by Clara Mafé. Inge Strassl highlighted that it’s important to think of the building, the energy performance, but also or even more to the people. And give them a good feeling of being involved in such a project. Many say it’s important to them to live in such a place. Representing Arca Nova, Ole-Edvin Utaker: We knew that we would have smaller margins than usual. The concept was that we have to scale down in the beginning, so to sell at the same level. We expect when this will take off that the market will follow. We believe that this is the future. From Area Wonen, a Dutch social housing provider, Thijs van den Oord said: Rents in the Netherlands are not affected by construction costs. The construction costs do affect the internal rate of return, which then influences the feasibility of the project. When asked about the efforts of reducing the carbon footprint, Joan Estrada from INCASOL: No significant carbon sinks were included in the project, but we do study recycled materials in the construction process.

A study visit was organised in the Fondo neighbourhood, to discover the new demo building. The first thing that any visitor notices: the very central common space. People like to ‘live outside’. The architect behind the project explained that residents can choose the degree of showing themselves and their space to the community. The completion of such an ambitious project in terms of energy efficiency was possible with the team behind it: municipality, social housing provider and the contractors. When asked if they would you build another building like this? There was a clear yes, with the condition of applying the lessons learned. The main factor that led to success was understanding not only the physical environment, but also the social one.

The coming months are expected to be quite exciting for the syn.ikia project, so follow us not to miss anything!


Share this