Infrastructure laboratories

Thomas Berker & Ruth Woods (,

June 18, 2019

What this is about

  • An inherent contradiction between infrastructure and laboratory
  • Working with the contradiction: The case of a zero emission living lab at Campus Evenstad

The problem combining “infrastructure” with “laboratories”


  • Reach or scope beyond a single-site practice
  • Links with conventions of practice
  • Embodies standards
  • Embedded inside other technical and social structures
  • Installed on an existing base
  • Invisible in routine use

Star and Ruhleder (1996)


  • Three translations: into the lab, within the lab, out of the lab
  • Within the lab: Many rapid cycles of trial and error to identify working constellations

Latour (1983)

What problem?

  1. Not losing “infrastructureness” in a laboratory.
  2. Not losing “labness” when experimenting with infrastructures.

Three illustrations

  • The Norwegian Smart Grid Laboratory: highest “labness”, lowest “infrastructureness”
  • Singapore smart grid lab and test bed: a lab struggling with “infrastructureness” (Tushar et al. 2016)
  • Smart grid pilots: highest “infrastructureness”, little “labness” (Skjølsvold and Ryghaug 2015; Wallsten 2017)

A zero emission infrastructure experiment at Evenstad Campus

A no-tech experiment

  • Co-designed with the local FM-team, based on an infrastructure ethnography and a series of workshops with occupants
  • The old administration building as experimental site: Switching off the AC during July 2018

A working constellation

  • Expected energy savings realised
  • Little negative impact on occupants, too warm anyway, little occupancy during summer months
  • Building owner Statsbygg is interested in more, similar experiments

And now?

Increase “labness”!

  • More experiments with the same and other buildings, allow for failing
  • Identify the conditions in which sufficiency strategies work (best)

Double temptation

  • Move on to other pilots (success!)
  • Declare the whole campus to be a “laboratory”

Urban living labs

  • Very specific and local (high labness)
  • So general that they are little more than marketing devices (high infrastructureness)


Working with the tension: carefully and continuously balance degrees of “labness” and “infrastructureness”


Latour, Bruno. 1983. “Give Me a Laboratory and I Will Raise the World.” In Science Observed. Perspectives on the Social Study of Science, edited by Karin Knorr-Cetina and MJ Mulkay, 141–70. Sage, London.

Skjølsvold, Tomas Moe, and Marianne Ryghaug. 2015. “Embedding Smart Energy Technology in Built Environments: A Comparative Study of Four Smart Grid Demonstration Projects.” Indoor and Built Environment 24 (7): 878–90.

Star, Susan Leigh, and Karen Ruhleder. 1996. “Steps Toward an Ecology of Infrastructure: Design and Access for Large Information Spaces.” Information Systems Research 7 (1): 25.

Tushar, W., C. Yuen, B. Chai, S. Huang, K. L. Wood, S. G. Kerk, and Z. Yang. 2016. “Smart Grid Testbed for Demand Focused Energy Management in End User Environments.” IEEE Wireless Communications 23 (6): 70–80.

Wallsten, Anna. 2017. “Assembling the Smart Grid: On the Mobilization of Imaginaries, Users and Materialities in a Swedish Demonstration Project.” PhD Thesis, Linköping University Electronic Press.