Paradoxes of Design: Energy and Water Consumption and the Aestheticization of Norwegian Bathrooms 1990-2008


In this article we explore the widely held assumption that aestheticized consumption is bound to escalate. In our study of 20 years of representations of bathrooms in Norway’s most popular interior design magazine Bonytt, we found support for the hypothesis that since the early 1990s new uses of bathrooms as sites for the construction and expression of identity and social aspirations have become more salient. We also have reason to believe that these new uses may be related to increased energy and water consumption. However, we also encountered aspects that indicate a more contingent and paradoxical relation. First, Bonytt calls explicitly for reflexive consumerism, enabling readers to deliberate the degree of aestheticization of their bathrooms. Second, while mostly showing large bathrooms, `aesthetic fixes’ are proposed by Bonytt, which let small bathrooms appear larger textendash without increased energy consumption for space heating. Third, aesthetics is used to propagate new, energy saving technologies (e.g. LEDs). And fourth, water and energy wasting practices shown in newer Bonytt issues (e.g. large shower heads) have largely replaced wasteful practices present in older issues (e.g. whirlpools). Thus, at least in these cases the shifts in fashions promoted by Bonytt may only be surface phenomena, which leave more fundamental trends untouched. These four observations are examples of how a productive relation between design and sustainability can be achieved.

Sustainable Development
Thomas Berker
Professor of Science and Technology Studies