Vila D’Este: Large-scale rehabilitation of a social housing district of 16,000 inhabitants in Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal

Public nZEB buildings case study
Project type

Vila D’Este district, featuring both renovated and non-renovated buildings / © Gaiurb

Located in the Porto metropolitan area, the Municipality of Vila Nova de Gaia is home to the Vila D’Este social housing district constructed between 1984 and 1986. This district comprises 109 buildings organised across 18 blocks, accommodating approximately 16,000 residents. Erected using the tunnel formwork technique, the buildings originally featured brick block façades devoid of insulation, leading to low-quality construction and poor energy efficiency. Consequently, residents grappled with significant discomfort in their homes, primarily stemming from thermal issues and the widespread presence of mould.

Over the years, the district suffered from intense deterioration exacerbated by a lack of maintenance and concentrated social problems. To avoid demolition, a comprehensive renovation project was initiated in two phases, one starting in 2009 and the other one in 2013. This ambitious rehabilitation project aimed to address two key objectives: first, to align the buildings with contemporary energy requirements and indoor air quality standards, and second, to rejuvenate the neighbourhood, both architecturally and aesthetically. The overarching goal was to enhance the overall livability of the district, which had suffered greatly due to years of neglect.

This refurbishment project stands as the largest of its kind in Europe, holding the potential to annually reduce carbon emissions by 3,800 tons of CO2 equivalent and generate an estimated savings of EUR 837,433.92 per year. To achieve these remarkable outcomes, the project adhered to national regulations in compliance with the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and nZEB standards, setting a significant precedent in sustainable urban rehabilitation.

How was this building procured?

The investment amounted to a total of EUR 12 million, with no financial return for the Municipality of Vila Nova de Gaia, the investor of the project,  as the ownership of the buildings is split between the municipality and individual private owners. The project was partially financed by European funds, through the North Regional Operational Programme for phase one, and the European Regional Development Fund for phase two. The renovation was managed by Gaiurb, the municipal housing company of Vila Nova de Gaia.

The public procurement process involved a design competition that required bidders to submit proposals for the rehabilitation of the neighbourhood in compliance with energy efficiency standards. The winning tender was selected by evaluating both the price proposal and the technical quality of the proposal. Price accounted for 40% of the assessment, while the technical features carried a weight of 60%. This process ensured that the rehabilitation was carried out in compliance with energy-efficiency standards, and the winning bidder was required to provide a comprehensive energy management plan for the neighbourhood.

What are the key nZEB features?

The rehabilitation of Vila D’Este included several key features that make it a nearly zero-energy building. The intervention focused mainly on an extensive improvement of the envelope of the buildings. The individual interventions include:

  • An 8 cm thick layer of Rockwool insulation and windshield vapour barrier was introduced on the roof;
  • For the exterior walls and façade, a 5 cm thick layer of ETICS thermal insulation with extruded polystyrene was incorporated. Panels and flaps in glass fibre reinforced cement were put into place. Several window areas were replaced and balconies were closed. Shading elements and eaves were built above window areas;
  • Efficient wind-driven fans were installed on top of ventilation conducts of sanitary facilities;
  • Solar thermal collectors with a surface area of 500 m2 were installed on the roof, for on-site energy generation.

Among other benefits, the measures above achieved a 32% reduction in heating demand.

Did the project have an impact on skills?

The renovation project adopted a multi-stakeholder approach, bringing together various actors, including associations of owners and residents, the Parish Council, the local Church, the municipal social housing company (Gaiurb), and the University of Porto. This collaborative effort was coordinated by the City of Gaia to ensure a holistic approach to neighbourhood rehabilitation.

The project also required specialised labour to carry out the rehabilitation work, which provided job opportunities for local businesses.

Keywords: Nearly Zero-Energy Building (nZEB), Skills Development, Social Housing, Neighborhood rehabilitation, Participatory Design, Vila Nova De Gaia, Portugal.

Find out more:

Scroll to Top