Dr. Dobosi is associate professor of architecture at the Polytechnic University of Timișoara and president of the Romanian Association of Building Services Engineers. Through his membership in REHVA, he played an integral role in identifying potential e-SAFE pilots in Romania and actively supported the consortium in liaising with all local stakeholders who needed to be involved in the co-design process. Upon completion of the co-design process within the Liceul Sportiv Banatul, we spoke with Dr. Dobosi about his experience with the process, his motivation to support and his reflections on how to achieve financing for the project.
You’re clearly very busy. You are associate Professor of architecture at the Polytechnic University of Timișoara, and president of the Romanian Association of Building Services Engineers, which has close to 1500 members. Yet you were incredibly active in the e-SAFE pilot process. You helped us identify potential pilots in Romania and connect us to the right stakeholders. What was your main motivation to get involved?
Buildings are my passion. This is my career. And I admit I have sentimental reasons for supporting the Liceul Sportiv Banatul. I graduated from this high school myself in 1981, and this year is the 75th anniversary of the school. It would be very meaningful to see the school where I was educated receive much needed renovations, and to help it become a frontrunner in Romania in terms of the innovation; combining seismic safety with energy efficiency is absolutely necessary in Romania.
And what was your role in the process?
REHVA informed about the e-SAFE call for pilots last August, and I helped identify buildings that could potentially be candidates for a holistic building renovation plan in Romania. I’m well connected here and I knew the Liceul Sportiv Banatul in Timișoara would be a great candidate, as there is a real need to find renovation and the mayor is already promoting renovation for three schools in Timis county, so it’s ‘fertile ground’, so to speak. We were in competition with about 30 other buildings if I remember. Both were chosen as pilots, in the end. In addition to helping make the first connection, I have also supported in aligning technical design aspects of the renovation design with Romanian standards to make sure the project is financeable. Two of my colleagues from the Department of Civil Engineering and Building Services helped with this. In terms of next steps and actually getting the project financed, I intend to engage with City Hall (the building owner), as well as the West Romanian Agency of Development. They’ve started to develop a financing guide for schools and hospitals, there could be a link with what we want to achieve here.
What has been the highlight of the whole experience for you?
I found the co-design approach itself to be highly innovative. The end result is a renovation plan that fits users’ needs much better than if the architect or engineer just comes in with a ready-made solution, and the people involved learn something and take ownership of the renovation in a way they wouldn’t otherwise. It’s a completely different experience for everyone involved. Students of the school received knowledge related to comfort, building structure, energy management, and even the aesthetic aspects. And they care more about energy savings than they did before. In this case, I think it was really valorising for the children involved, to be heard, to have their ideas considered and, in some cases, taken up in the final renovation plans.
So this was the first time you saw such an approach to renovation design?
Yes, I hadn’t considered this myself before, after decades working in the field.
Do you think the co-design approach is feasible in other schools?
The case of the Liceul Sportiv Banatul will provide a great example for other schools to follow both in terms of the co-design approach and the combination of seismic safety renovations with energy performance. I also see myself having an important role in aligning the technical aspects with Romanian laws and standards to make sure this approach is financeable. And we need to find finance to make the renovation happen. We need to engage with City Hall, the owner of the building, as well as the West Romanian Agency of Development. They’re developing a financing guide for schools and hospitals, there could be a continuity in what we want to have finally here.
The recast EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), has introduced minimum energy performance standards in Europe, which will make renovation of many public buildings mandatory in EU member states. Are local authorities ready to face the amount of renovation of public buildings that will need to happen in the coming years?
No one is ever ‘ready’, but every challenge has a solution. The fact is that local authorities will have to face the renovation requirements.
What about people outside of the world of policymaking and buildings? Do you see an increasing demand for renovation among citizens?
From my point of view, it’s important to make the effort to educate people on the benefits of renovation as much as possible, in order to create behavioural change, to make people more responsible in their daily energy use. That said, I do believe people are beginning to understand that energy efficiency means paying lower bills every month, and who doesn’t want that? But not everyone is in the financial position to act. Along with continued education, the financial support needs to be there, at national and local level. Financing programs should be designed in a way that facilitate their use for local authorities. And subsidies could help, especially for something like a holistic renovation service that combines energy efficiency with seismic retrofitting.
What was your impression of e-SAFE's approach, combining energy efficiency with seismic retrofitting in one renovation?
An approach that provides a prefabricated solution that meets energy performance requirements and safeguards the building’s safety is absolutely essential in an earthquake-prone country like Romania. From an economic or a lifecycle perspective, it doesn’t make sense to renovate a building for energy performance that can’t withstand an earthquake. The biggest earthquake I know of in Romania was on March 4th, 1977. It was a 7.7 on the Richter scale. That's huge. And another was predicated to come about 50 years later. So people are getting nervous, especially after the tragedy in Turkey. After 1977, the norms changed and buildings have had to be designed following certain norms that take earthquake safety into consideration. But the Liceul Sportiv Banatul, for example, was built before then. But as I said, renovation requires money.
What are the next steps? Are you hopeful that this project for the Liceul Sportiv Banatul will get financed?
I'm optimistic, yes. We expect the project to receive financial support enabling this project to be implemented in the next year. And we want to prepare a financing guide and pass all the steps necessary to obtain the building permit for construction.