Three buildings in the STS village

Freeway overpasses

Winners’ bridges

  • Bad Moses (Winner)
  • Wrong Winner (Joerges)
  • Ambivalent Bridges (Woolgar)

Cornell Biotechnology

“Walk through machines”

Sociologists could take buildings more seriously, but maybe not too seriously. The play of agency and structure happens as we build: we mold buildings, they mold us, we mold them anew…. “ (Gieryn 2002, 65)

Alte Aula, Wien

Complex mediators

A building is, I argue here, a complex mediator that skilfully redistributes the agency among human and non-human participants in renovation, provokes contextual mutations and transforms social meanings. (Yaneva 2008, 8)

Carefully selected built structures to explore the agency of non-human actors

Building research at CTS, a partial perspective


  • Energy use in the home
  • The inability of the construction industry (architects, engineers) to engage in sustainable innovation


  • Energy and building operation (Robert Bye)
  • Sustainable building design strategies (Helene Tronstad Moe)
  • Architectural theory and sustainability (Krishna Bharathi)
  • Passive houses in Norway (Liana Müller)
  • Sustainable transition in construction (Ann Kristin Kvellheim)
  • and many more…

Recent changes

  • From energy to CO2 emissions
  • From buildings to neighbourhoods
  • The “end user niche” is becoming crowded

And now?

What can STS teach us about the built environment?

Infrastructural inversion

Figure - Ground

Relational infrastructure 1

  • Embedded inside other technical and social structures: e.g. work and organisation
  • Transparent in use
  • Reach or scope beyond a single-site practice
  • Learned as part of membership

Relational infrastructure 2

  • Links with conventions of practice
  • Embodiment of standards
  • Installed on an existing base
  • Becomes visible upon breakdown

STS’ built structures as infrastructure

  • Winner’s bridges
  • Gieryn’s laboratory
  • Yaneva’s buildings
  • Aune’s homes

Back to the building as artefact (infra-object?)

Moving from “artefactness” to “infrastructureness” and back again

  • in designing: standardisation+automation vs “building human agency” (PLEA 2009 manifesto, Cole et al. 2010)
  • in using built structures
  • in studying built structures


  • Cole, Raymond J., Zosia Brown, and Sherry McKay. 2010. “Building Human Agency: A Timely Manifesto.” Building Research & Information 38 (3): 339.
  • Gieryn, Thomas F. 2002. “What Buildings Do.” Theory and Society 31 (1): 35–74.
  • Star, Susan Leigh, and Karen Ruhleder. 1996. “Steps Toward an Ecology of Infrastructure: Design and Access for Large Information Spaces.” Information Systems Research 7 (1): 25.
  • Yaneva, Albena. 2008. “How Buildings ‘Surprise’: The Renovation of the Alte Aula in Vienna.” Science & Technology Studies.

Bonus track: At home in an infrastructure

[A]n infrastructure occurs when local practices are afforded by a larger-scale technology, which can then be used in a natural, ready-to-hand fashion. It becomes transparent as local variations are folded into organizational changes, and becomes an unambiguous home—for somebody. This is not a physical location nor a permanent one, but a working relation—since no home is universal (Star and Ruhleder 1996, 114).

Making yourself a low energy home

“inhabitants should be responsible to take an ‘active’ role for the provision of relative comfort using robust ‘passive and low energy’ strategies” (Cole et al. 2010, 344-5, quoting from PLEA’s 2009 “Building Human Agency” manifesto)

What is indoor environmental comfort?

  • “Infrastructurists”: A universal, standardized, physiological entity as defined in building standards
  • “Artifactualists”: The outcome of contingent negotiations between building and occupants as described PLEA’s “Building human agency” manifesto (written by building researchers in 2009, see Cole et al. 2010)


Brand: How buildings learn