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Conceptualising urban density, energy demand and social practice.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/02/2021
<mark>Journal</mark>Buildings and Cities
Issue number1
Number of pages13
Pages (from-to)79-91
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


In urban studies and in energy policy there is much debate about the relationship between energy demand and the density of residential areas, measured in units such as those of population/ha or population/km2. A different approach is presented in this paper. Rather than evaluating the relative merits of compact or sprawling urban forms, the focus is on the spatial configuration of the infrastructures, appliances and systems of provision on which city life depends. An interview-based study of households living in the same extremely ‘dense’ neighbourhood in Hanoi, Vietnam, shows how practices of cooling, laundering and cooking (and the energy demands associated with these practices) are shaped by material arrangements that exist within the home and that also stretch far beyond. The conclusion that supply and demand are constituted across multiple spatial scales has practical implications for urban design, and for how the relation between energy demand and density is defined and understood.


Energy demand is a consequence of how social practices are distributed and organised across space and time. By contrast, metrics of density can be counter-productive and tend to obscure potentially crucial questions regarding the constitution and the transformation of energy demand. A practical approach is presented to conceptualise relations between material arrangements and energy demands at different scales: from the layout of the home to more extensive infrastructures and systems of provision. The implications of these ideas can influence debates about urban density and design by focusing attention on infrastructures, appliances and the layout of the spaces that influence how they are actually used, and for the practices they accommodate and enable.