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Standards, design and energy demand: The case of commercial offices

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Abstract

In this paper we examine the influence of what we call market standards on design. We do this using the case of the design of commercial offices and the effects of standards on moves towards less energy demanding designs. Theoretically the paper builds on concepts drawn from a range of literatures examining standards, including science and technology studies and the sociology of standards. We argue that standards do important ‘work’ in design processes that require closer scrutiny. We show that in the case of commercial offices this affect the likelihood of the incorporation of low energy technologies. Our analysis reveals: the importance of taking greater account of normative and cultural forms of market standards and their role in design; the value of explaining how standards break the relationship between design and social practice, in our case this meaning that low energy technologies that might adequately cater for office work much of the time are considered inappropriate due to a lack of understanding of office work practices; how standards interlock to legitimate incumbent (higher energy) technologies, and in turn de-legitimise (lower energy) alternatives, through the way they define what is ‘needed’; the value of tactics within energy and sustainability policies designed to govern non-regulatory standards and their effects. The paper thus makes an important contribution to understanding the ‘work’ of standards, and more broadly the production of energy demand in offices.