Superbonus 110% – the sustainability narrative is not just about saving energy

Superbonus 110% – the sustainability narrative is not just about saving energy

Sustainability, regeneration and retrofitting. Two years after the Superbonus, the Italian subsidised deduction of 110% of the expenses incurred for the upgrade of the energy and anti-seismic performance of buildings, the sustainability narrative must aim at other goals.

Italy 2022. Today, it is increasingly necessary to define a design approach that enables the development of architectures and built spaces in line with globally shared goals for sustainable development. In reality, it is quite likely that there is nothing to invent with respect to a correct definition of design or the role of the architect, but it will be necessary to interpret the points already discussed at the Climate Change Conferences into concrete actions. We will have to think about cities, neighbourhoods and buildings, lining up the pieces of a complex jigsaw puzzle with which to define the cultural foundations for building quality.

Unfortunately, looking at all the outcomes of the Conference of the Parties (COP), from 1995 to the present, it is clear that not much progress has been made, and all the results have certainly not been as good as hoped, leaving us, 28 years later, almost at square one. Within this alarming framework, DVArea, even establishing itself as a benefit company, is clear in its thinking and objectives: there is only one planet and we must take care of it. There is no other option. And this must be done through a new approach to design, a new way of building, a different urban vision, massive digitisation to create databases that can be drawn on to make sustainable and future-proof design choices.

All this now takes place within an open research table that DVArea, with DVA, has established to investigate sustainable design, involving collaborators, professionals, university lecturers, specialists and experts on the subject. If each area of research must always be evaluated in relation to its effectiveness in helping to achieve one or more objectives, in the same way sustainable design must be strong with respect to the objectives of the project, it must push the designer, faced with a possible choice, to opt for the one that is most virtuous with respect to the overall objectives, promoting innovation and simplicity.

Once this premise is clarified, one can come to terms with current events, with the emergency of war and the difficulty of finding raw materials. The supply chain of the building industry already appeared altered in the face of the latest political events. The sector already had problems, amplified in Italy also by the effect of the Superbonus: price rises, work overload for companies, a non-strategic vision of energy requalification. These weaknesses also have repercussions on future investments, which tend to slow down, generating uncertainty in the market and system operators, heralding possible new economic crises in the coming months.

Italy is a very differentiated reality. A reality that has thrown itself headlong into the Superbonus: new companies have sprung up, as have new approaches, often improvised. Changes to the rules of the game have not helped to structure this initiative as a driver for a paradigm shift in the design and generation of retrofitting and regeneration (of systems and architecture) of our building stock.

Looking at the sustainability and the possibility of innovation that this initiative could have introduced into the Italian scene, the impression is that it was in fact a missed opportunity. All this activity was catalysed by only two main factors: access to deductions to carry out “free work” (according to an unfortunate initial quote, which has been largely betrayed by the facts), and to obtain the double jump up in class, which in fact is the only technical/energy constraint imposed on the work. It was never considered, within the technical and legislative set-up, that this tax concession could be the driver for innovating and digitising the sector and the building stock. If it had been compulsory for all buildings eligible for the initiative to carry out a survey and a digital model of the state of affairs and design, we would today have a first database of the built environment with significant and considerable information; if in order to access the incentive it had also been necessary to plan and design the management and future life of the building, we would have had more careful interventions and widespread quality.

In reality, most of the operations activated under the Superbonus did not fully grasp the great revolution that could be enacted, falling back on a façade environmentalism, what we now call greenwashing, applying an external synthetic insulation to the building and not generating sustainable studies and projects, except in the few demolition and reconstruction operations carried out, often on single-family dwellings.

The hasty definition of “improvement in energy efficiency” attributed to the installation of external insulation, with a jump-up of two classes, cannot by any means be seen as an integrated intervention or as a true retrofitting of the building. A similar argument can be made for the simple replacement of boilers and windows. It is modernisation, and it is certainly useful, but it does not change the status quo of the building, it does not bring and does not hold innovation and vision to generate awareness and culture of sustainability and energy saving in citizens.

DVA tried to make a difference to this approach. We tried to carry out integrated interventions, as far as possible and accepted by the clients. This has been very difficult because it generally entails extra, probably non-deductible, expenses for the apartment building. However, we have always tried to bring about a real regeneration of the building, to carry out interventions that would also improve the fabric of the city and its urban surroundings. Talking with tenants and administrators, explaining the meaning of the interventions and the goals set, a social and intellectual environment and a desire for innovation was found that often overcame the problem of costs; what we saw was people interested and sensitive to the sustainability issues discussed in Glasgow and in previous international meetings, fertile ground was found to at least start the discussion.

Hence, by working through the use of multiple tax bonuses, and by modelling the apartment building into a digital twin right at the outset, and designing integrated interventions, a first change to the status quo could be achieved. Of course, not all the apartment buildings we dealt with had a positive path, but we certainly managed to apply our point of view on some very interesting initiatives.

The present is grappling with the grounding of assignments that have already started and are to be completed by 2023. But today what is needed is a new narrative.

We need to change the message on sustainability, which today is focused on the combination of sustainability = energy savings. Sustainability, in architecture, is a more complex matter that cannot be reduced to just that, but is projected towards a broader social, economic and environmental vision. Within the environmental issue there is also the energy issue. We cannot think that all the quality that revolves around the idea of sustainability is in a zero-emission building. The building must become not only efficient, but a key element in the urban regeneration concept. The levels of sustainability are different: the city, the neighbourhood, the buildings. These levels must converge, but above all, they must work together.

In an anthropocentric vision, construction and architecture cannot escape from this vision, but must be able to go beyond it: people at the centre but in a constant, symbiotic dualism with nature. Without forgetting that by now, everything that has been made, from the industrial revolution to the present day, whether artefacts or buildings, is part of this combination and cannot fail to be innovated and included in a path of change and redevelopment.

Other factors must thus be introduced: inhabitants’ behaviour, waste, reuse, use of resources, materials, circular economy, use of domotics, biophilia. Having a design approach that leads buildings to be elements of well-being, and improve the health and mood of those who live or work in them.

The building must also, on a larger scale, become a key element of urban regeneration, a thought towards the future. Recycling and reuse in architecture and its materials will be basic concepts to recover as much as possible and generate a new supply chain. Technological innovation, software applications in living, to adapt to the evolution of living and to save the planet will have to go in this direction. Today the building can no longer just be beautiful. Architecture must today be more audacious in asking higher, more global and more social questions. Form is not enough.

In fact, aesthetic value is no longer sufficient to guarantee the best environmental quality nor to meet the expectations of occupants in the built environment. Sustainable design, therefore, will have to go hand in hand with other technological solutions, all equally well thought out for controlling the quality of the indoor environment, such as thermal comfort, air quality, lighting, acoustic comfort and an appropriate arrangement of office space, the use of greenery and the arrangement of furniture and colours.

There is also the whole issue of shared living – with a view to not consuming any more land – and of reconverting industrial spaces. But this is another issue, which is no less important and indispensable for further investigation. This is the challenge that awaits us in the coming years; certainly not an easy one. This is what DVArea, through DVA and the other companies, has equipped itself for, with technology, innovation, care for people and relationships, ready to design the future and to try to dictate, without conceit, some guidelines.

Renato Simoni

28 mag 2022

7' min raed


#superbonus #urbanregeneration #retrofitting #energyredevelopment #sustainability #greenwashing #complexity #zeroemissions

Renato Simoni:

Architect. Co-founder DVA.