Cà Foscari is the most ancient green building worldwide. LEED certification for the extant buildings of the 16th century residence has actually drawn attention to a crucial issue for Italy: the sustainable management of historical buildings. Green Building Council Italia developed the first ad hoc tool to provide the guidelines and assess the policies aimed at cutting the environmental impact of Italy's historical heritage, while ensuring it remains thoroughfully preserved: GBC Historic Building protocol.

For centuries, Ca’Foscari has enchanted illustrious figures, renowned artists and visitors from all over the world. Its strategic and scenic location “facing the Canal” was one of the reasons that inspired Doge Francesco Foscari, governor of the Serenissima who bestowed his name upon the palace, to acquire the structure in 1452. He had it rebuilt according to architectural and stylistic criteria and rendered his home an extraordinary example of Venetian Gothic and a visual reference used as a guiding principle even in eras that followed. From the building, one can enjoy a unique panorama that spans from the Rialto bridge to the Accademia complex, exploited by artists throughout history to depict splendid vistas. Its position of prevalence over the Grand Canal has made it the ideal pier for the awe-inspiring floating stage, dubbed the Machina, which hosts the officials and marks the finish line for the Historical Regatta. Ca’ Foscari has always been the site where the winners of the Regatta were awarded. The palace reveals fleeting but beautiful glimpses: the ancient courtyard of Ca’ Giustinian with its outdoor staircase, the large courtyard inside Ca’ Foscari, surrounded by stark enclosures, the visible stone walls of the wells which were so elaborately decorated, the Gothic arches which provide a framework for both the waterway and land entrances along with the play of lightness and grace which characterize the majestic exterior facing the Grand Canal. Between 2004 and 2006 the Ca’ Foscari-Ca’ Giustinian complex underwent a painstaking restoration project (which won the prestigious Premio Torta), a significant challenge for architects and planners who married the historical and the modern all the while complying with the esteemed history of the structure and the heritage left by the work of Carlo Scarpa. In the 1930’s and the 1960’s, the renowned architect and Venetian designer was called upon to restore the present day Aula Magna Mario Baratto and the surrounding spaces. Scarpa’s innovative restoration project enhances the architectural style of the 1400’s, creating a play of light, lines and volume which merge tradition and modernity so beautifully. Inside the Aula Magna, there are two frescoes dating back to the 1930’s: “Venezia, l’Italia e gli studi “ (Venice, Italy and Education) by Mario Sironi and “La Scuola” (School) by Mario de Luigi. Both paintings clearly reflect the different meanings attributed to each painter’s vision of studies and cultural knowledge. Scarpa’s style is evident throughout the building, even in the doors and windows of the main entrance, the wall sconces on the ground floor and the silhouette of the hand railings of the central staircase.
Since 1868, the palace has been the main seat of the prestigious Ca’Foscari University of Venice. It was founded by the noted economist Luigi Luzzatti as a Scuola Superiore di Commercio (Business College). The school emphasized not only the theory but also the practical side oriented to the in-depth examination of economic material with the purpose of supplying a specialized preparation to tradesmen and teachers. Right from the beginning, the study of Oriental and Occidental languages was developed, reflecting the multicultural vocation of the city on the lagoon. Currently, the university is structured into four macro-areas – Economics, Linguistics, Humanities and Sciences – which offer a wide range of choices of courses and research areas. Each year at Ca’Foscari University of Venice, there are approximately 20.000 students enrolled, 1.000 teachers, researchers and technical administrative staff and 3.000 graduates.

The use of the building as University premises implied that considerable energy and water resources would be used. For this reason, the environmental and energetic performances of the building required to be improved, in accordance with LEED EB:O&M sustainability protocol, which eventually turned Ca' Foscari into the most ancient green building worldwide.
LEED EB:O&M certification, promoted by the US Green Building Council, certifies the degree of sustainability of buildings related to their operation, as well as to their management and maintenance. Water efficiency, supply drawn from renewable sources, green public procurement, sustainable mobility are all the fields considered by the Green Building Council where Ca' Foscari proved to meet the requirements for certification. The virtuous management of plants and the sustainable policies of the University have helped reach such an ambitious achievement.

The modifications made on water taps, toilet tanks and water diffusers have improved efficiency and reduced the amount of potable water from a reference baseline of 7074m3/year to a rate of 5.106m3/year which is a reduction of 28%: the equivalent to the average annual consumption of 31 residents in the province of Venice (Istat data).

Ca’ Foscari adheres to the Consip agreement “Energia Elettrica 10” (Electric Energy 10) which includes a specific Green Option, namely, 100% of electrical energy used for all the branches of the university is generated from renewable resources. The energy planning of the university already began for its other locations and involves the modernization of the infrastructure design by means of the installation of new high efficiency heaters and the maximization of the efficiency of the control center for these heaters. A continuous monitoring system has been installed for the analysis of the consumption profile and to identify specific strategies in the area of maintenance and servicing. In addition, viability studies have been effected and geared towards the improvement of energy efficiency with particular attention being paid to lighting, by means of substituting traditional light bulbs with high efficiency lighting options.

Currently at Ca’ Foscari, 60% of purchases are “green”, pertaining to both consumer goods and stationery (paper, toner, batteries, etc.) as well as to durable goods for the office (computers, printers, photocopiers and furniture. For example, an environmentally conscious criteria has been introduced for the use of printers in order to reduce waste and paper usage). The policy adopted by Ca’ Foscari has established an obligatory minimum which is among the highest in Italy. The university is also dedicated to reducing amounts of mercury by using high efficiency mercury free light bulbs for both interior and exterior lighting. The aim of Ca’ Foscari is to have at least 90% of the light bulbs purchased respect the general limit of mercury content (not more than 90 picograms of mercury per lumen-hour).

Ca’Foscari already adopted an experiment to implement differentiated waste collection (RADICA project) before the LEED project. Some of the measures undertaken in this area include the substitution of printed questionnaires, which at Ca’ Foscari amounted to approximately 60.000 copies a year. Virtual assessments permitted an annual reduction of 300 kg of paper. There was also the replacement of the traditional academic transcript with a digital version. This process led to economic savings of 80.000 euro per year.
Thanks to existing administration policies and the implementation of Green Procurement at the Foscari Palace, users will be able to differentiate 80% of the total volume/weight of waste produced by consumer goods. As for the lifespan of durable goods, Ca’ Foscari favors suppliers and products that enforce a recycling program and re-use the parts of the equipment that still function.

60% of the cleaning products used at a Ca’ Foscari is Ecolabel certified. Ecolabel is the European label attached to certain products or services which certifies they have a reduced environmental impact.

The results obtained with LEED certification for Cà Foscari show the potential for the energy regeneration and, first and foremost, for the sustainable management of Italian historical heritage.
The vast Italian historical heritage includes buildings that would benefit from deep regeneration; in fact, while preserving and making the most of their historical value, they need to upgrade their sustainability to guarantee a more efficient usage, reduce management costs and ensure a longer duration of investments.
To meet the need for this kind of interventions, the first sustainability protocol specially conceived for historical buildings was recently launched in Italy under the name of GBC Historic Building, developed by the Green Council Building Italia ( This is an opportunity for universities, museums, church buildings and public administration premises to help the environment, as well as public finance, since savings could be allocated to other priorities. Today, these interventions should be a priority, as, if they are cleverly run like in this case, they cost nothing or very little and generate immediate payback.


[di Marco Caffi, Director of GBC Italia, e Alberto Ballardini, LEED AP O+M BD+C, Member of Technical Committees of GBC Italia, Head of Existing Building Services at Habitech - Energy and Environment District]