Where this comes from

  • 15 years of collaboration with engineers and architects around the topic of zero emission buildings and neighbourhoods
  • Hired as expert on use of technology in everyday life but
    • occupants do not care much about zero emission technologies - except when they break down
    • they still make a difference for energy use
  • Sociologist, working at an STS centre

Re-Thinking the use of buildings through infrastructures


Buildings are a classic example of infrastructure: transparent, embedded, etc

But also very present in daily lives

Introducing “infrastructureness”

S. Brand: How buildings learn

Creating “Infrastructureness”

A little how-to: Increasing and decreasing “infrastructureness”

Heavily but somewhat selectively based on S.L. Star’s catalog of characteristics of infrastructures, illustrated with examples from our work with zero emission buildings/neighbourhoods


↗ Make the building systems transparent in use: they are just there, adjusting automatically

↘ Force users to be aware of the building’s inner workings to be able to use it


↗ Embed the building in as many as large technical and social networks as possible (e.g. remote monitoring and operation of buildings)

↘ Disembed the building as far as possible, it should work stand-alone

Beyond single site practices

↗ Abstract the building systems away from single site practices, they should work in every building

↘ Make building systems specific to single site practices (maybe even on room-level)


↗ Search for standards and follow them, if there are none create standards by building on existing ones (e.g. standards regarding acceptable temperature ranges, zero emission building standard)

↘ Avoid standards as far as possible

Learning to use

↗ Hide the manuals, keep knowledge about the building’s functionality on a need-to-know base

↘ Spread the manuals, teach as many about as much of its functionality as possible

Litmus test for “infrastructureness”

Upon breakdown:

↗ High degree of interruption of daily lives upon breakdown - preferably complete stand-still until the experts have found the fix

↘ Low degree of interruption - easily fixed locally

Where to go with this?

For zero emission buildings/neighbourhoods

  • Occupant engagement + Passive energy design + PV (+ Batteries)
  • Smart, automatic, active building systems: Rely as little on occupant control as possible

Beyond buildings

Solving climate crisis through solutions with high or low infrastructureness (e.g. electric cars vs bicycles)?

  • only incremental change but on a large scale
  • makes sense for businesses (economies of scale)
  • is the natural way for engineers to design systems

  • potentially large change but only on a one-by-one basis
  • makes sense for democratization of technology (adding to human agency)
  • underresearched (except: Cole 2010; de Laet & Mol 2000) - a kind of de-engineering?