Orchestrating energy transitions: From ‘eco-bling’ to tuning the building

Authors: Pauline McGuirk*, University of Wollongong, Australia, Chantel Carr, University of Wollongong, Robyn Dowling, University of Sydney
Topics: Urban Geography, Energy
Keywords: Buildings, energy transition, infrastructure, material
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 40
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Transitioning energy use away from fossil fuels and towards renewable resources has brought the dynamism and influence of urban infrastructures and materialities into sharp relief. Assemblages such as buildings are enlivened with the capacity to act by spurring human and institutional responses and creating and stabilising new social practices, networks and institutions. It follows that building materialities have political capacities, not merely in terms of their symbolic or representational effects, but also in their ongoing material agencies – their ability to induce responses, materialise interests and purposes, and authorise practices. In this paper we explore how buildings in the CBDs of Sydney and Melbourne, Australia are materially enrolled in the pursuit of energy transitions through two distinct but overlapping temporalities of city-making. First, we look at energy transitions enabled through large-scale changes in the urban fabric. Here, particular new technological interventions (sometimes dismissed by sceptics as‘eco-bling’) shape and are shaped by both historical legacies and contemporary trends in building fabric. Second, we examine the quotidian practices and routines of building tuning: a more fine-grained interaction between people, building management systems, financial systems, tenancy and occupancy systems which are continuously reassembled to procure (or not) a reduction in energy use. Here energy transitions are enacted through incremental practices of business-as-usual upgrading, care and repair. In fostering building energy transitions, we conclude, new technologies, materials or practices are not sufficient on their own, but rather it is their orchestration by occupants, regulations and economic interests that have political and material effect.

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