A retrofit of a densely populated district, with a concentration of social issues, that improved quality of life and neighbourhood perceptions.
A large district in the Oporto metropolitan area, built in the 1980s, had become host to a concentration of social issues. To avoid demolition, while combatting energy poverty, a retrofit to enhance resource efficiency was necessary. With a focus on social cohesion, community amenities and resource efficiency, this project aims to support social and built environment improvements, while mitigating the risk of gentrification. Funded through an urban rehabilitation policy promoted by the Portuguese government (80% ERDF), the project led to energy efficiency which enabled energy savings of up to 42%. This was made possible through insulation of facades, roofs, windows and more. By preserving much of the built form, the site and district history was celebrated. The facades and roofs rehabilitation solutions improved the buildings’ comfort, image and resource efficiency. Energy consumption now averages 75 kW/h per year. All efforts were undertaken in close collaboration with residents. A local development agency was created whereby residents were supported with information on employment, education, housing, health, sexuality, drug addiction, family planning, home management, domestic violence prevention, recreational and sports activities and citizenship. Resident engagement led to the construction of a municipal pavilion, a sports center, swimming pools and a kindergarten/1st cycle school. A subway line to Vila d'Este is also scheduled to begin in 2019 and to be completed by 2021

Resources needed

12,000,000€ for 2,085 units covered the costs for the entire retrofit and regeneration project. Based on the investment and the savings generated by the intervention of rehabilitation, it is estimated to have a payback of less than 12 years.

Evidence of success

A significant improvement in dwelling energy efficiency was achieved (75kWh/m2) with an associated annual saving of approximately 850,000€, contributing to the decrease of fuel poverty. With a people-first focus on improving the social environment/infrastructure in the district, illustrated by the construction of the school, sports centre, swimming pools and more, it is shown that green and social infrastructure improvements can be combined and remain affordable for the residents.

Difficulties encountered

The original buildings had similar typologies, but were built by different firms, at different times, with different materials and solutions. The design team had to develop a sophisticated observation, recording and analysis method to assess the differing contexts of each building.

Potential for learning or transfer

Technical design solutions coupled with the preservation of heritage and a strong engagement and communication process with key actors are elements that can be scaled and transferred from Vila d’Este, even in smaller buildings.
The energy, emission and monetary savings achieved with the implementation of this project are key success factors. Social efforts are an equally important contribution to this project, enabling improvements while counteracting gentrification and fuel poverty. Based on the investment and the savings generated by the intervention of rehabilitation, it is estimated to have a payback of less than 12 years.
There has been a radical transformation in the perception and reality of Vila d’Este: people have opened their doors to the community, they no longer live under the stigma associated with marginality and they feel pride in their neighbourhood.

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Main institution
Gaiurb - Urbanismo e Habitação, EEM
Norte, Portugal
Start Date
January 2009
End Date
December 2015


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Good Practices being followed by

Carla Pires

Municipio de Vila Nova de Gaia