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Cultures, Communities and Design

Non-urban zero emission neighbourhoods: Two cases from Norway
T. Berker & R. Woods
11:00 am - 1:00 pm


Zero emission neighbourhoods (ZEN) and positive energy blocks (PED), two widely used concepts in Norwegian and European responses to climate change, are predominantly described as urban phenomena. In technological terms, these concepts exploit synergies between buildings with different use patterns that are grouped densely. But also in terms of culture and society, they are suffused with images of short distances to everything including lively street life and urban cafe culture. While urban nature in the form of trees and lawns features prominently in these imaginations as they are for example expressed in visual representations, equivalent approaches targeting the countryside or small towns are rare. We became acutely aware of this in our work as part of the Norwegian Research Centre on Zero Emission Neighbourhoods (see fmezen.no). Norway is a country of tiny towns and remote villages, with a long tradition of active policies counteracting urbanisation. Despite this context, the research centre follows the international trend and privileges urban morphologies, which is even more surprising as only two of the centre’s nine pilot areas are located in cities. We base our contribution to the development of a non-urban zero emission concept on extended anthropological fieldwork at and around two of these non-urban pilots: Steinkjer and Elverum. There we have studied what happens when urban zero emission concepts meet non-urban infrastructures and ideas of a good life. In most cases the result is lack of engagement or even outright resistance, but we found also creative adaptations that we analyse with the help of a domestication perspective, which comprises cognitive, practical and symbolic activities (Berker et al. 2005).


Thomas Berker is professor in science and technology studies at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) where he currently leads NTNU’s Centre for Technology and Society. Originally trained as sociologist, he has 15 years of experience with interdisciplinary research on sustainable built environments. More recently he has published on socio-technical perspectives on sustainable change in the built environment and sustainable innovation in urban planning.

Ruth Woods is an anthropologist and researcher at the Centre for Technology and Society at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Originally trained in the fine arts, she gradually expanded her aesthetic interests to include architecture and its social context, and from there to buildings that include advanced technical systems. Woods is particularly interested in occupant and citizens, and their relationships with physical context in urban and rural locations.