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Josef Hargrave

Global foresight manager

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3ENCULT: energy efficiency for cultural heritage


energy efficiency for cultural heritage

Focus Area

Cities, Energy


Arts and Culture, Building Retrofit, Energy, Sustainability





Historic buildings embody a rich cultural heritage, but are often energy-inefficient and contribute disproportionately to greenhouse gas emissions. The 3ENCULT research project funded under the European Union FP7 (Project 260162), of which Arup was a consortium member, aimed to address the gap between conservation of historic buildings and environmental protection. A key goal was to demonstrate the achievability of significant reductions in the energy demand of historic buildings, through energy-efficient retrofitting of heritage buildings while maintaining and respecting heritage value and character.

Each historic building is unique, so it was recognised that one-size-fits-all would not be a viable approach. The project team identified a pool of potential solutions and developed guidance for selecting the solution or solutions appropriate for a specific building. Eight pilot study sites were selected: La Casa della Pesa, Bolzano (Italy), Palazzo d’Accurso, Bologna (Italy), Palazzina della Viola, Bologna (Italy), Arsenal, Copenhagen (Denmark), Höttinger School, Innsbruck (Austria), Wilhelminian villa, Dresden (Germany), Engineering School University of Salamanca, Bejar (Spain), and Strickbau, Appenzell (Switzerland). Each of these historic buildings underwent a process of diagnosis, and long-term monitoring systems were installed. Bespoke energy retrofit solutions were developed for each building, and were tested and adjusted to optimise the building-specific energy performance.

Key Findings

The 3ENCULT project team developed a window that is both energy-efficient and conservation-compatible. The window, which is commercially available, has been successfully installed at the historic public weigh house in Bolzano, Italy. Other innovative technical solutions developed by the 3ENCULT project team include capillary active internal insulation and a low-impact ventilation system.

The 3ENCULT project team produced a technical guidebook for architects, engineers and conservators entitled Energy efficiency solutions for historic buildings: a handbook (edited by Troi, A and Bastian, Z; published by Birkhauser) which is available to download via the 3ENCULT website.


Arup’s focus within the 3ENCULT team was the development of energy-efficient solutions. Historical buildings can be retrofitted with conservation-compatible passive and active solutions in order to reach higher efficiency energy standards. The study identified individual techniques (both active and passive) and, in particular, identified combinations of measures that can be configured to reduce energy demands and improve the energy performance of a building. The range of aspects addressed included internal insulation, moisture transport, shading, daylight, artificial lighting, passive heating and cooling, active energy solutions and renewable energy sources.

The findings of the project may influence the regulatory framework for historic buildings across Europe. The 3ENCULT team issued proposals for the integration of historic buildings in the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, including the following recommendations for historical buildings: regular inspection of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems; national requirements for historic buildings that are being refurbished; an energy certification scheme for historic buildings; and mandatory review of the energy efficiency of historic buildings.


In the past, efforts to achieve energy reductions in historic buildings have been viewed by some stakeholders as incompatible with heritage conservation. Through its work on 3ENCULT, Arup has helped to demonstrate to the conservation community that energy-efficient retrofits can maintain the heritage value of a building. The innovative energy-efficiency solutions developed through this project, ranging from windows and ventilation through to smart monitoring systems, could give a potential reduction of 40% to 50% in the energy use of historic buildings in Europe.