Healthy Climate Needs a Service

Fürst, M. F., & Bovet, A.

Healthy Climate Needs a Service: Maintaining HVAC Infrastructures in Times of Transition


Permeable Housing and Intersecting Infrastructures
Society for Social Studies of Science Annual Meeting (4S)
Society for Social Studies of Science
New Orleans, USA

Upgrading the energy performance of the building stock is a recurring theme in coming to terms with future challenges related to climate change. Backed up by an established body of research and development, this redefinition of the house is primarily rooted in imaginaries of technoscientific innovation (‘smart home energy’), architectural reorientation (‘energy-neutral house’), and change in end-user consumption patterns. While it is recognized that the management and energy-oriented renovation of infrastructures play a crucial role in the transition of built environments, the mundane, everyday work of technicians, engineers, facility managers, and care-takers plays a minor role in bureaucratic and academic visions of the energy transition in urban governance, planning, architecture, and design. Based on ethnographic field work data generated by shadowing HVAC-technicians in Switzerland in their daily work, the contribution offers a view into the ’back stages‘ of thermal infrastructures. For the maintenance technicians, the boundaries of the house and the geographies of infrastructure, and the durability of socio-material relations are vital practical concerns. An intermediary between users and provisioning of infrastructure, the ongoing function, comfort, safety, efficiency, affordability, and sustainable endurance of building technologies are negotiated through the local performance of practical knowledge and technical expertise, and enacted in the situated practices which make up maintenance interventions.

Questioning the emphasis STS research regularly places on ‘innovation’ and emergent technoscientific phenomena, the contribution aims to show how the ‘energy transition’ is translated into everyday situations through the very ordinary mutations of thermal infrastructure in practice.