Building as living lab - Buildings as a living lab for climate-neutral, needs-based and affordable housing

Within ÖWG, climate protection and sustainability are strategically anchored in renovation and densification projects. A comprehensive, climate-neutral renovation concept had been developed for a specific pilot property in Graz in an open, co-creative innovation process. The building becomes a living lab in which new solutions are tested in the everyday lives of the residents.

Short Description


completed (January 2024)

Motivation and Research Question

The building sector is a key lever for achieving climate protection targets. Globally, the building sector accounts for around one third of greenhouse gas emissions, while in Austria one third of final-energy-consumption is attributable to space heating and hot water. The refurbishment of existing buildings is of central importance for the necessary reduction targets. Without a substantial increase in the annual refurbishment rates of existing buildings, a significant reduction in energy consumption and the Paris climate protection targets will not be achieved.

Within ÖWG Wohnbau, there have been increased efforts and targets in the area of climate protection for several years, but these need to be further developed and strategically anchored. The topic of climate neutrality, climate protection and climate change adaptation must be examined in all its facets (decarbonization of heat and electricity supply, green and blue infrastructure, material ecology, economical use of land as a resource, climate protection at resident level, mobility, life cycle considerations, etc.).

The underlying questions for the one-year exploratory project were:

  • What does "climate-neutral refurbishment" mean for ÖWG Wohnbau?
  • How can the topic of "climate-neutral refurbishment" be strategically anchored?
  • What tools can be used to support climate-neutral refurbishment projects in the future?
  • How and at what point in time is it sensible and feasible to involve residents?
  • What could a climate-neutral refurbishment concept for a selected ÖWG Wohnbau residential property look like?

Initial situation/status quo

ÖWG Wohnbau owns and manages a total of over 1,100 properties with around 33,000 flats. Within the building portfolio, around 20-30% of the existing buildings have currently been refurbished to varying degrees, with a focus on comprehensive thermal refurbishment measures wherever possible for the past 3-4 years. This focus should be further expanded and extended with regard to climate protection and climate change adaptation. Over the next few years, the aim is to achieve refurbishment rates of 3-4% per year.

Project content and objectives

The aim of the exploratory project was to strategically anchor climate protection, sustainability and resource conservation in ÖWG Wohnbau's refurbishment/extension and redensification projects and to develop a comprehensive, climate-neutral refurbishment concept for a specific pilot property in Graz, which will subsequently be implemented.

As part of the exploratory study, the following topics were addressed with regard to decarbonization and efficiency potential:

  • Buildings / technical building systems and energy supply
  • Mobility
  • Open spaces, greenery and microclimate and summer suitability
  • Human factor and residents (social structure, user behavior, climate protection in residents' everyday lives, relationship level with building management)
  • Common areas
  • Life cycle planning and circular economy
  • Affordability and economic efficiency

Methodological approach

In the exploratory study, open innovation tools were applied to issues relating to climate-friendly, sustainable, needs-based and affordable housing. Innovative solutions for the identified problem areas of refurbishment were generated and evaluated via co-creation processes involving stakeholders from science, business and society. Selected ideas are to be trialled in real-life housing whenever possible during subsequent implementation.

The residents of the pilot project were given the opportunity to actively help shape their living environment. They were able to slip into the role of idea providers, co-developers, test and feedback persons and their building became a real laboratory - a space for experimentation and possibilities.

These processes of opening up and integration enabled innovations and added value to be created and also strengthened the necessary acceptance for refurbishment and redensification processes.

Results and conclusions

The following results are available at the end of the exploratory study:

  • Vision, subject areas and target definitions for climate-neutral refurbishments at ÖWG Wohnbau
  • Comprehensive catalogue of criteria and tools for analyzing and planning refurbishment projects
  • Ideas for climate-neutral refurbishments, communal spaces and outdoor areas as a result of two open ideas competitions
  • Pool of measures for refurbishment measures (incl. cost estimates and effects)
  • Refurbishment concept and preliminary study for the Billrothgasse property
  • Process flow for future refurbishment projects incl. involvement of residents


Based on the refurbishment concept and the preliminary study for the Billrothgasse property, further in-depth evaluation and planning steps will be taken internally at ÖWG Wohnbau and the implementation of the refurbishment will be prepared (realization planning). The target images and supplementary planning tools and checklists developed in the exploratory study will be tested in practice in future refurbishment projects.

Project Images

Terms of use: The pictures listed underneath the header “Project Pictures” originate from the projects in the frame of the programmes City of Tomorrow, Building of Tomorrow and the IEA Research Cooperation. They may be used credited for non-commercial purposes under the Creative Commons License Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC).

Project Partners

Project management

ÖWG - Österreichische Wohnbaugenossenschaft gemeinnützige registrierte Genossenschaft mit beschränkter Haftung

Project or cooperation partners

  • StadtLABOR - Innovationen für urbane Lebensqualität GmbH
  • AEE - Institut für Nachhaltige Technologien

Contact Address

DI Sandra Inninger
Moserhofgasse 14
A-8010 Graz
Tel: +43 (316) 8055-413