This PhD thesis provides an analysis of central processes related to the creation, negotiation and communication of the future sustainable building in Norway. Both researchers and practitioners have pointed at the Planning and Building Act as a central means to speed up the process and to set the frames for a sustainable development. Based on interviews with experts, I conclude that the building laws are never a direct translation of research results, EU directives and international agreements. These have to be translated, adapted and mediated, i.e. domesticated, to the Norwegian climate and cultural conditions. Particularly in Norway, building researchers consider the Passive Houses (PH), extra-low energy buildings with a focus on energy efficiency, as a necessary step in a sustainable development of buildings. A closer scrutiny of the PH development in Germany and Austria helps us to understand and describe the factors that have made the voluntary PH standard a success in these two countries. However, the initial political support for the Norwegian PH standard as technical requirement ignited a controversy among engineers, architects, physicians, physicists, policy-makers and practitioners. In the analysis of this path-dependency controversy I conclude that the disagreements address the technological concept but also its implications in society, health, culture, research and education. The knowledge produced in the research environment and the political decisions are brought to a broader public by the media. The analysis of newspaper articles on low energy concepts reveals that the media in Norway has relied heavily on experts’ knowledge to mediate the news: also the mediation of the sustainable building has become an expert task, with little public scrutiny.
The considerable amount of energy spent on the construction, maintenance, and demolition of buildings draws attention to sustainable development in the construction sector. Regarded as both tools and frameworks, laws are expected to sustain and speed technological innovation. With the STS (Science and Technology Studies) theory of domestication and in-depth interviews with building researchers studying zero emission buildings in Norway, I discuss the role of research engineers in the domestication of law, that is, the translation of European Directives for building codes and technical requirements, and the mediation of these legal frameworks for industry and practitioners. I classify two main and opposing ways of domesticating the law in ‘inside-the-box’ and ‘outside-the-box’ approaches. The domestication of law accounts for numerous aspects and thus simultaneously becomes a technological, cultural, political and legislative activity. The paper contributes to a better understanding of the legislative roles of research engineers.
We are currently witnessing in the Norwegian building sector (and elsewhere) the transition from isolated and heterogeneous sustainable building projects carried out in protected niches (e.g pilot projects) to more sustainable buildings becoming mainstream. According to scholars studying sustainable transitions this is the moment in which a dominant design catches on, replacing and displacing other more or less sustainable alternatives.
Within this process, in the Norwegian case, the principles behind the passive house play a salient role. In fact, only recently a government white paper has called for "passive house levels" to become part of the building code by 2015. This strong focus on passive house principles is not without its critics and alternatives. Since 2010, a controversy about health and other negative impacts of insulating Norwegian houses (that are traditionally light wooden structures) to passive house levels has been going on in the Norwegian public and among experts. And recently, the building industry has entered the field with an adaptation of the BREEAM certification scheme which gains ground rapidly.
In this paper we describe and analyse these three options – passive house, its critique and BREEAM - of defining green andsustainable building in Norway based on media analysis and interviews with their respective proponents. We describe potential compatibilities and incompatibilities and conclude with questions for further research.
Improving energy efficiency in dwellings is generally seen as the low-hanging fruit of climate change mitigation. In particular decreased heat loss through better insulation is suggested as one of the most cost-effective means to achieve the ambitious national and international goals of climate gas reduction. However, the literature shows that a profitable technological solution is not sufficient to reach the energy goals. Aspects such as a lack of information, unobserved costs, and heterogeneity among users can compromise the success of technical innovation. Still, there are successful concepts that drive the technological development in the construction sector. The Passive House is an example for such innovations that manage to bridge the energy efficiency gap. This paper addresses the Passive House concept and standard as a success story of technological innovation. With Bruno Latour's Science in Action (1987) as a starting point, we describe the conditions under which the standard was created, the role of the network built around the Passive House Institute, and the consequences of exporting the standard. We identify success factors that have supported the diffusion of the Passive House standard and concept and discuss its possible development in the current situation which is characterized by its wide-spread adoption.