Multiple dynamics of sustainable housing concepts in Denmark – on the role of passive houses
Paper in proceedings, 2012
The multilevel perspective of Geels (2005, 2011) outlines a number of dynamics of transition, yet after establishing pluralism what really remains from the analysis is a two sided competition between an existing regime and an upcoming technological niche.
Critically using Geels’ conceptualization of a world of dynamics, the paper reviews institutional theory and actor network approaches to transition in an attempt to better account for contemporary developments, encompassing EU and governmental reforms and their role in transition in the building sector as well as multiple competing concepts. Referring to multiparadigmatic approaches (Goia & Pitre 1990) we argue that the combination of institutionalist and actor network theory can bring a fruitful understanding of this process. We use institutional theory to address emerging multiple competing institutions (Thornton et al 2012), and actor network to understand the heterogenous actor dynamics (Latour 2005, Pipan &Czarniawska 2010).
The emergence of ‘passive houses’ in Denmark is used as a case of transition dynamics. The concept was developed in Germany and imported into Denmark. In Geels’ vocabulary it constitutes a technological niche, encompassing technologies, players, improvisation and early customers. Passive houses as future institutions have entered into fierce competition with other future institutions such as LEED, DGNB/green building council and active houses. Passive Houses was at the outset a well-developed upcoming institution with its own design principles, - software, certification and numerous material realizations, e.g. reference buildings, strong enough to be a challenger institution. Passive houses are promoted by a characteristic alliance of architects, consulting engineers, a few clients, and an architect school, whereas the other concepts exhibit their specific actor alliances. Yet passive houses experience barriers such as the reputation of being expensive and non-user friendly and are currently surpassed by the other concepts.