ant and green city.pdf in the Green Assemblages article, do you think that the section on windmills and the concern with front-yard aesthetics (pages 15-16) symbolizes a larger issue about the way society views/understands sustainable practices?Science & Technology Studies 1/2013
Urban Green Assemblages:
An ANT View on Sustainable City Building
Anders Blok
In this article, I sketch an STS-theoretical approach to world-wide growing concerns
with urban climate risks and sustainable urbanism more generally in terms of what I
call ‘urban green assemblages’. This approach draws inspiration from recent attempts
to bring actor-network theory (ANT) closer to urban studies, infusing urban political
economies with STS sensibility towards the contingencies of eco-socio-technical
design and transformation processes. ANT, I argue, offers a new ontology for the city,
allowing the study of those concrete and plural sites at which urban sustainability is
known, practiced, scaled, negotiated and contested, in heterogeneous and dynamic
assemblages of humans and non-humans. I explore the analytical potentials of this
ANT urban ontology through a case study of how architects, engineers, and urban
planners currently perform Nordhavn, one of Europe’s large-scale sustainable city
building projects, as a site of multiple matters of public-political concern with urban
Keywords: Actor-network theory; Assemblage urbanism; Sustainable city-building
Introduction: Bringing ANT
into Urban Ecology
Urban ecology may have once been the
province of community activists occupying
industrial waste-lands – but as public
concerns with environmental and climatic
risks have grown, ideas and practices
related to the greening of cities have
now entered the realm of urban truths
circulating among policy-makers and
planners world-wide (Jamison, 2008). On
the one hand, figures pointing to cities as
responsible for more than 70% of global
carbon emissions are now commonplace;
on the other, cities on all continents
actively re-position themselves as ‘living
laboratories’ for innovating and testing the
green technologies needed to move towards
a low- or zero-carbon transition (Evans
& Karvonen, 2010; Bulkeley, 2012; Blok,
2012a)1. Everything from low-energy houses
to bicycle infrastructures, from green roofs
to solar heating panels, the professional
worlds of architecture, engineering, and
urban planning are now called upon to redesign long-standing urban metabolisms.
Urban ecology, in short, is fast becoming an
important domain for observing the largescale reassembling of nature, technology
and society.
Science & Technology Studies, Vol. 26 (2013) No. 1, 5-24
Science & Technology Studies 1/2013
In this article, I argue that Science and
Technology Studies (STS) in general, and
actor-network theory (ANT) in particular,
help bring new insights to bear on urban
ecology, conceived broadly as relational
processes of city-based eco-socio-technical
change. At the same time, I deploy urban
ecology as an invitation to push STS and
ANT thinking in new directions, related
to questions of how sustainable urbanism
works as a particular mode of knowledgemaking and a specific format of contentious
(cosmo)political experimentation?
Developing these themes entails
positioning ANT at the intersection of
multiple on-going conversations on the
(un)sustainability of cities, sprawling
the hinterlands of STS, urban studies,
human geography, and political ecology.
Although STS concepts clearly figure in
these conversations (e.g. Hinchliffe et al.,
2005; Heynen et al., 2006), there is still
much work to be done, I suggest, in trying
to spell out the exact implications of ANT to
urban ecological politics, and, conversely,
in specifying the challenge of urban ecology
to ANT (and STS) theorizing. This, then, is
the task I pursue in this article, in terms of
developing the concept of ‘urban green
assemblages’ as an important ANT-derived
contribution to cross-cutting debates on
sustainable urbanism and urban political
While thus motivated primarily by
theoretical concerns, I want here to pursue
this double challenge – of ANT in urban
ecology – by an on-going case study, which
looks at the dynamics of knowledge-making
and political contestation in one of Europe’s
large-scale sustainable city building projects.
In Copenhagen, capital of Denmark and
home to 1.5 million people, ambitious plans
are underway to rebuild the old industrial
harbor area known as Nordhavn (‘North
harbor’) into what the urban designers
confidently refer to as ‘the sustainable city
of the future’. By 2050, this 300 hectare area
by the water, to the north-east of city center,
aspires to house 40.000 new inhabitants in a
‘green’, carbon neutral, bicycle-friendly, and
renewable energy-based urban district. So
far, all of this exists mostly in architectural
models, engineering projections, planning
documents and local politics. In empirical
terms, my aim is to explore how urban
natures are mobilized in-between these
divergent modes of city engagement. How
and by whom are knowledges on (global)
ecological risks translated into situated
city-making practices, and what kinds
of inscription devices and coordination
practices does this work entail?2
My exploration of these questions
proceeds by way of bringing together,
conceptually and empirically, two promising
strands of ANT encounters with cities-inthe-making. First, I pick up the thread from
how ANT has recently been brought to bear
on the field of urban studies, in what has
become known as ‘assemblage urbanism’
(Farías, 2010; McFarlane, 2011). Pushing this
turn further, I develop the notion of urban
green assemblages as a means of bringing
ANT sensibilities to the study of how urban
green knowledge is produced, translated
and contested across specific urban sites,
scales and relations. Second, I bring this new
ontology of urban ecology together with STS
studies that deploy ANT to elucidate specific
building and architectural design projects as
complex ecologies of professional, juridical,
economic and cultural relations (Yaneva,
2009; Houdart, 2008). Using primary textual
material from the Nordhavn case to illustrate
both encounters, my discussion aims also
to contribute to a nascent STS interest in
practices of sustainable architecture and
design (e.g. Moore & Karvonen, 2008). Via
the notion of urban green assemblages,
however, I want to suggest that ANT
entails particular analytical (and ethical)
commitments to this agenda, pushing
Anders Blok
STS to study the implication of design in
(cosmo)political controversies over multiple
attachments to urban ‘greening’ (cf. Yaneva,
In what follows, I start by developing
the conceptual contours of urban green
assemblages. Informed by ANT sensibilities,
assemblage urbanism, I argue, brings a
new ontology of the city to urban ecology,
one that emphasize the need for situated
empirical inquiries into those practices of
knowledge-making, scaling, and material
intervention whereby urban actors
reassemble city-based natures. Next, I bring
this notion of urban green assemblages into
dialogue with STS work on architectural
practice, in order to suggest that sustainable
architecture works as a specific modality of
inscribing ecological concerns into urban
political life.
This leads into a more empirical
exploration of how architects (and
engineers) inscribe urban natures into
plans for the future of Nordhavn – and how
these inscriptions are in turn contested
in specific urban publics. In terms of
method, my analysis relies primarily on
access to primary textual architectural
and engineering design consultancy
material supplemented by media analysis,
interviews with key actors, and participant
observation at public hearings. In particular,
my analysis seeks to show how architectural
inscriptions of urban natures in Nordhavn
come in multiple overlapping forms, each
with different dynamics of knowledge and
politics. Importantly, this suggests that,
rather than facing a singular challenge of
rendering places more ‘environmentally
sustainable’3, architects are key actors in
juxtaposing and coordinating a multiplicity
of co-existing attachments to, and practices
of, urban ecology (cf. Mol, 2002).
These explorations lead me to
suggest, in conclusion, that ANT entails
a particular notion of urban political
ecology, one committed to place-based
collective experimentation and learning
around (global) ecological risks – and
one that orients urban design towards the
overarching question of cosmopolitics, the
politics of the common cosmos (McFarlane,
2011; Latour, 2007). In a world of multiplying
ecological risks, I suggest, this may prove an
important STS contribution to debating,
and rethinking, city-making as currently
Urban Green Assemblages: A New
Ontology of City Metabolisms?
Compared to its substantial engagements
technological development complexes,
it is fair to say that the field of STS has yet
to pay extensive attention to urban sites
and processes (Hommels, 2005; Coutard
& Guy, 2007). This is surprising, given
that – as Aibar and Bijker (1997) note in
their study on the planning of Barcelona
– cities may be treated as ‘enormous
socio-technical artifacts’, heterogeneously
engineered by a range of competing actors
and institutions. In the case of Barcelona,
Aibar and Bijker show how contrasting
visions of city extension among engineers,
architects, and local communities resulted
from different yet overlapping sociotechnical frames, encompassing such issues
as hygiene, mobility, social distinction,
and land ownership. In this contentious
process, closure around a final urban design
was achieved through situational microstruggles and compromises over the width
of streets, the depths of buildings, and
public access to facilities and parks. While
so far rather marginal, STS would indeed
seem well placed to study such politics of
urban design (Moore & Karvonen, 2008).
To understand this situation of relative
non-engagement, however, we should
note some intellectual particularities
Science & Technology Studies 1/2013
of that academic domain which claims
the city as its ‘truth-spot’ (Gieryn, 2006),
that is, urban studies. As Coutard and
Guy (2007) suggest, much contemporary
urban studies is marked by a universalized
imaginary of urban decline, splintering
and discrimination – an orientation at odds
with a widespread STS sensibility toward
the contingency and ambivalence of any
socio-technical transformation process.
Such divergence, no doubt, may be further
traced to the continuing influence within
urban studies by various branches of critical
theory, including post-Marxist urban
political economies of the 1970s (McFarlane,
2011). However internally diverse, urban
political economy approaches (e.g.
Harvey, Castells, Lefebvre, Sassen) tend to
understand cities primarily as local nodes in
wider global processes of capital circulation
and accumulation. This orientation, in turn,
downplays the need for such situated and
open-ended ethnographic explorations as
favored by STS scholars (Farías, 2011)4.
Recently, however, the terms of
engagement between STS and urban
studies appear to be changing, as various
critical urbanisms are increasingly being
challenged by theorists of ‘assemblage
urbanism’ (McFarlane, 2011). Importantly,
assemblage urbanism traces its genealogy
in large part to actor-network theory
(ANT), including the STS and Deleuzian
intersections of this theory, as an attempt to
‘test’ the contribution of ANT for rethinking
the city in urban studies (Farías, 2010).
In this vein, assemblage theorists seek to
delineate how ANT offers up “an alternative
ontology of the city” as a de-centered
object (Farías, 2010: 13). According to
Farías (2010: 2), then, cities are “relentlessly
being assembled at concrete sites of urban
practice”, as a “multiplicity of processes
of becoming, affixing socio-technical
networks, hybrid collectives and alternative
topologies”. Here, assemblage urbanism
resonates strongly with Bruno Latour’s
own ANT take on the composition of city
life through situated techniques and flows
(Latour & Hermant, 2006).
Assemblage urbanism has a number of
important consequences for rethinking
the city – all of which, I want to suggest,
will prove beneficial to our understanding
of urban ecology, in terms of what I dub
urban green assemblages. First, and most
literally, assemblage urbanism conceives
of cities as ensembles of heterogeneous
actors, giving analytical priority to the active
dynamics of arranging or fitting together
socio-material elements. Cities may be
assembled in multiple ways, depending on
how heterogeneous connections are forged
among objects, places, materials, machines,
bodies, symbols, natures, policies and so
on (Farías, 2010: 14). This is also the sense
in which, like ANT in general (Murdoch,
2001), assemblage urbanism may be said to
promote an inherently ecological view of the
city, one that stresses the agency of urban
materiality, natures and non-humans. In
the language of Isabelle Stengers (2005),
assemblage urbanism invites a view of cities
as overlapping ecologies of human and
non-human practices.
It is important to note, however, that
most urban ecologies – as shaped by
obdurate socio-material infrastructures of
electricity, water, housing, transportation
and waste – tend to remain unnoticed
backdrops to city life (Star, 1999; Hommels,
2005). Only under specific conditions,
similar to what Geoffrey Bowker (1995)
calls ‘infrastructural inversions’, are urban
socio-material relations articulated as
matters of (un)sustainability concern5.
In the Nordhavn case, for instance,
such articulations were explicitly built
into the architectural competition brief,
constraining designers to frame their placemaking visions in accordance with wider
environmental goals of the Copenhagen
Anders Blok
municipal government. As such, Nordhavn
emerges as an urban green assemblage,
in the sense that heterogeneous actors
here come to orient themselves towards
redesigning urban eco-socio-technical
relations in ‘green’ directions. I explore what
this means in more detail later on. So far, the
main analytical point is that, while urban
green assemblages may operate at different
scales, from the domestic (Marres, 2008)
to the global (Sassen, 2010), they will tend
to bring together particular constellations
of technologies, sites and actors, from
engineers and architects to developers,
regulators, civic associations and urban
This relates also to a second analytical
effect of assemblage urbanism in terms of
how it deals with issues of space, place, and
scale. The main point here is simple, but it
carries wide-ranging consequences: rather
than granting explanatory autonomy to
spatial categories like the city, assemblage
urbanism conceives the city as a plurality
of sites, the connections among which are
changing and contingent. In this sense,
there simply is no city as a whole, but
rather a multiplicity of sites and processes
assembling the city in different, sometimes
contradictory, ways (Farías, 2011: 369).
Importantly, urban sites are defined not
by geographical boundaries or scales, but
by types and lines of activity, whereby
spatialities emerge through the actornetworks that connect places (Latour, 2005;
Farías, 2010: 6). An urban green assemblage
like Nordhavn, for instance, gradually
emerge as connections are forged – through
such devices as the architectural competition
brief – among otherwise non-related places,
from the post-industrial landscape of an
old harbor area in Copenhagen, via local
government bureaucracies to architectural
and engineering offices. At all of these sites,
moreover, connections will be fanning out
to other scientific, political, economic and
cultural nodes, locally and trans-nationally
(cf. Yaneva, 2012).
This notion of spatiality as assembled
sites also entail a particular approach to
scale-making, in that ‘local’ and ‘global’
are not fixed geographical coordinates, but
rather denotes the variable end-products of
collective scale-making practices (Latour,
2005). In terms of urban green assemblages,
this is a crucial point, given that
contemporary urban ecology derive much of
its rationale and dynamics from urban sites
being selectively brought into contact with
(supposedly) ‘global’ environmental risks,
thereby setting in motion various re-scaling
trajectories (e.g. Sassen, 2010). Indeed, the
entire Nordhavn project might reasonably
be described in such terms, in that the
project re-scales climate change as being
in significant parts an urban (rather than,
say, national) challenge – while, at the same
time, re-scaling Nordhavn as an ‘eco-city’ of
potentially global significance (Blok, 2012a).
Still, assemblage urbanism invites us to
also be more specific, in terms of analyzing
how socio-geographical scales come into
being, in concrete cultural, political and
architectural practices, as actors stabilize
their connections of proximity and distance
(Slater & Ariztía, 2010). Hence, one key
question for the study of urban green
assemblages is how, by whom, and via what
kinds of inscription devices, knowledges on
‘global’ ecological risks are translated and
asserted within ‘local’ city-making practices,
such as Nordhavn?
Third and finally, assemblage urbanism
also carries far-reaching implications
for how to deal with issues of urban
asymmetries and power; and hence for
rethinking the political dimensions of urban
ecology. This is a difficult point, because
ANT is often misunderstood as promoting a
vision of flat (‘power-free’) social territories.
It is certainly true that, unlike (some) critical
urbanisms, assemblage urbanism refuses to
Science & Technology Studies 1/2013
imagine overarching and all-encompassing
power structures – such as ‘global neoliberal
capitalism’ – which would over-determine
city life and politics, including the politics
of sustainability. However, as always in ANT,
this analytical refusal is made precisely in
order to study those concrete and situated
practices of socio-material ordering,
whereby agency capacities, resources and
power end up being unequally distributed
within specific urban relations (Farías, 2011:
370). Inside an urban green assemblage like
Nordhavn, for instance, particular actors –
including developers, municipal planners,
and architects – clearly inhabit city-ordering
centers, or ‘oligopticons’, that allow them
to act as spokespersons of wider urban
constituencies (Latour, 2005). What is made
present and what is made absent at these
powerful urban sites, and hence which
concerns enter the city-building frames
and which overflows them (Callon, 1998),
are critical questions for urban assemblage
Embedded in this analytical approach
to the dynamic asymmetries of urban
ecologies, moreover, is a particular vision of
democratic city politics, helping to specify
the political project wedded with the notion
of urban green assemblages. By introducing
technologies, natures and non-humans
into urban politics, assemblage urbanism
amounts to what Latour (2004) calls a
‘cosmopolitics’, a politics of the common
cosmos. No longer a matter solely of human
(e.g. class) interests, urban cosmopolitics
involve conflicts over different city
‘cosmograms’, that is, ways of articulating
the elements of the city, the world, and
their mutual connections (Farías, 2011:
371). Understanding political ecology as
cosmopolitics means becoming attuned to
the way urban democratic publics (in the
plural) are dynamically constituted around
specific ecological situations and mattersof-concern, say, concerns with inner-city
wildlife (Hinchliffe et al., 2005). Moreover,
as I stress in this article, it also entails paying
special attention to the ways in which
architectural and other professional citymaking inscriptions may both constitute
and constrain such engagements. As
such, I suggest, the politics of urban green
assemblages arises mostly through forms of
public experimentation and learning at the
fringes of urban expert planning sites.
In sum, this article joins on-going work
at the intersection of STS and urban studies,
in order to conceptualize urban green
assemblages as part of a more general
rethinking of the ontology, materiality,
sociality and politics of cities. Urban green
assemblages are defined as ensembles
of heterogeneous actors, human and
non-human, which orient themselves
to the gradual redesign of urban ecosocio-technical relations in ‘green’ (or
‘sustainable’) directions. Such assemblages
arise from the way actors forge urban
ecological connections between otherwise
non-related sites and practices, including
those of engineers, architects, regulators,
civic associations and urban residents,
standards and natures in the process. Urban
assemblages entail issues of asymmetry and
power, but they also open up new spaces
of democratic experimentation around
ecological matters-of-concern, in and
beyond sites of expert urban planning. To
further specify how this works, I turn now
to consider sustainable architecture as a
specific modality of engagement with urban
Sustainable Architecture: Urban
Ecology as Movable Projects
While there is no inherent connection
between architecture and urban green
assemblages, it remains the case that,
throughout the 20th century, architects
Anders Blok
have been frequent participants in shifting
coalitions of urban environmentalist
Conversely, lines of influence from the
science of ecology run deep in the history
of architectural modernism (Galison, 1990;
Anker, 2010), as well as in contemporary
practices of so-called ‘eco-‘, ‘sustainable’
or ‘green’ architecture (Owen & Dowey,
2008; Moore & Karvonen, 2008). From the
perspective of assemblage urbanism, the
main question is how to conceptualize such
architecture as a particular modality of
ecological knowledge practice and a specific
form of urban cosmopolitics? Answering
this question is challenging, in part because
‘eco-architecture’ clearly does not designate
a homogeneous set of practices. Rather,
considered as a globalized assemblage in
its own right, architectural engagements
with urban ecology exhibit widespread
differences in time and space (Guy & Moore,
2005). Before turning to the Nordhavn case,
and by way of capturing the distinctiveness
of the ANT approach, it is worth considering
some such important axes of difference.
As a first approximation, the recent
history of eco-architecture suggests that
this assemblage fluctuates together with
the vagaries of environmentalist thinking
and practice. Hence, as STS scholar Andrew
Jamison notes (2008: 290), architects were
often central to the many small-scale
alternative-technology movements that
coalesced in the 1970s, especially in Europe,
engaging in decentralized experiments
with low-energy houses, urban agriculture,
and wind power generation with a view
to broad social critique. With growing
commitments since the 1980s, however,
alignments between architecture, markets
and politics also changed. ‘Sustainability’
has emerged as a polyvalent marker of
differentiation, in market and value terms,
within the field of architectural consultancy
work (Owen & Dovey, 2008). The architect
of sustainability, in this sense, is a fairly
recent socio-professional kind, co-emerging
with other material practices such as those
of eco-engineers, green-tech companies,
and environmental regulators (Fischer &
Guy, 2009). Together, these will commonly
be the most prominent knowledge-making
practices involved in contemporary urban
sustainability projects.
In the vein of critical urbanism, Jamison
(2008: 293) reads these cultural-political
transformations largely as a (deplorable)
turn to market dominance in urban
development, leading to the downplaying
of environmental ambitions. This is where
assemblage urbanism objects, however,
to such structural notions of overarching
power relations. In the guise of commercial
architecture will certainly be shaped in
part by its relations to powerful economic
actors, such as land developers, as is also
the case in Nordhavn. However, this point
should be extended to include all the
conflicting stakeholders involved in any
urban sustainability project, including
urban authorities, expert consultants,
communities, building users, and so on.
In this sense, any building project is a
contested ecology of unequal relations
(Latour & Yaneva, 2008: 88), making it hard
to say a priori what relative strength will
be exerted by ‘economic’ concerns. For
assemblage urbanism, then, the key point is
that capital is hardly the only force exerting
itself within city-making practices (cf. Farías,
2011). Indeed, focusing too narrowly on the
commercial aspects of eco-architecture
risks blurring the inherent diversity and
socio-technical importance of architectural
design practice itself.
Instead, as Moore and Karvonen (2008)
suggest, STS needs to be brought closer into
contact with the socio-technical frames of
Science & Technology Studies 1/2013
design thinking. This is also where the two
ANT approaches to cities-in-the-making
come together: on the one hand, assemblage
urbanism; and, on the other, ethnographic
studies on architectural practice as a
specific semiotic-material modality of
world-making (Yaneva, 2009; Houdart,
2008). So far, these two creative strands
of ANT studies have had little contact.
Bringing them together, as I do here, will
help position architectural engagements
with sustainability projects as urban ‘hybrid
forums’ (Callon et al., 2009), entangling a
range of mutually contentious knowledges,
material practices, and value commitments
within an urban green assemblage. What
unites such otherwise divergent projects,
arguably, is the fact that some architectural
proposal will act as an obligatory point of
passage, in terms of juxtaposing and giving
material form to site-specific settlements
amongst contentious forces. In this sense, I
suggest, architects and their inscriptions act
as important mediators in urban ‘greening’
processes, as vehicles for articulating urban
localities as matters of ecological concern.
In their own work, Moore and Karvonen
(2008) suggests to distinguish three ‘geohistorical frames’ of sustainable architecture,
in terms of their relations to ‘context’: the
context-bound, the context-free, and the
context-rich. Context-bound design refers
to traditions of ‘vernacular’ architecture,
crafted from local materials with ‘natural’
qualities, such as straw or wood. Contextfree design, by contrast, refers to a dominant
form of modernist sustainable architecture,
centered on the functional deployment
of efficient technologies, and without
any consideration of particular places or
ecologies. Context-rich design, finally,
connotes traditions of participatory and
community-based architecture, whereby
advanced technologies come to be related
to their social ecologies by way of inclusive
collective experimentation6.
Cast in these terms, the Nordhavn case
clearly exhibit strong elements of contextfree design thinking: in their design
specifications, architects and engineers
position Nordhavn as an urban ‘laboratory’
for testing various ‘cutting-edge’ green
technologies, implying that experiences
gained from this locality will be readily
transferable to other contexts (cf. Gieryn,
2006). Moreover, highly technical and
quantified notions of energy-efficiency,
environmental impact reductions and
carbon neutrality, as tied in different ways
to housing, energy, and transportation
infrastructures, play prominent roles
in the overall design frame. Unlike the
grander epochal claims of Jamison’s critical
urbanism, then, Moore and Karvonen’s
ideal-types are helpful in drawing out some
of the specific features which sets apart a
design project like Nordhavn from other
contemporaneous efforts of sustainable
architecture – including other on-going
projects in the city of Copenhagen – which
draws more heavily on context-bound or
context-rich design traditions7. As such,
their concepts point to important axes of
difference among urban green assemblages.
While thus framed through a broadly
context-free design imaginary, however,
practices pertaining to more context-bound
and context-rich traditions are clearly also
visible within the frame of the Nordhavn
architectural project. As such, the various
traditions seem to intermingle and coarticulate in discernible patterns, often in
relation to different aspects, or different ecosocio-technical relations, enfolded within
the same plans for this large-scale urban
district. This is what I unfold empirically
later on through the concept of the ‘urban
green multiple’ – considered as one
important form of urban green assemblages
– which captures the way a multiplicity of
co-existing attachments to urban natures
come to be enfolded in a single sustainable
Anders Blok
architecture project (cf. Mol, 2002). What this
sense of multiplicity and juxtaposition point
to, I believe, are the inherent limitations of
an ideal-typical approach such as that of
Moore and Karvonen (2008). Hence, while
their concepts are helpful in sensitizing STS
researchers to major differences in design
imaginaries, they have little to say about
the situational requirements and (cosmo)
political controversies that shape how
specific sustainable architecture projects
To fully get at this level of site-specificity, I
suggest, we should follow the ANT footsteps
of Latour and Yaneva (2008) in making
the simple but powerful observation that
buildings (and urban settings generally)
are not static objects but movable projects.
Resonating with assemblage urbanism
language, what this suggests is that, in
analyzing a specific urban sustainability
project such as Nordhavn, we need to trace
how their complex ecologies transform
over time as new elements impinge
upon the architectural frame, and as new
controversies arise (cf. Yaneva, 2012). Zoning
laws, land prices, construction materials,
energy technologies, risk analyses, building
standards, stylistic fashions, user habits,
and so on – all of this (and more) is brought
together, worked upon, modeled and
modified in and beyond the architectural
office. Over time, as powerful allies
are mobilized around a specific design
proposal, the architectural frame will start
to stabilize enough for the project to gain its
spatial, temporal, and eco-socio-technical
dimensions. Such dimensions are never
entirely freeze-framed, however; they may
be re-opened for public-political scrutiny
once architectural design inscriptions start
circulating in media and other formats.
Importantly, in climate-sensitive urban
restructuring, part of what impinges on
the architectural frame are new local
manifestations of global environmental risks,
necessitating material accommodations.
In this context, the contested relations that
pertain to any building project may be said
to gain yet more layers, as design expertise
is further pluralized, leading to new coarticulations of architectural, engineering,
and natural science tools and knowledges.
In the Nordhavn case, architectural and
engineering consultants have been working
closely together for the duration of the
design process, thus illustrating a tendency
for architectural practice to grow more
reliant on engineering expertise in the
context of sustainable design (Fischer &
Guy, 2009)8. Moreover, the exact knowledge
ecologies and material natures enacted
in such urban green assemblages matters
greatly to architectural practice. In the
Nordhavn project, for instance, architects
had to deal in their design with projected
sea-level rises, made known through
expert agencies’ computer modeling on
the localized urban effects of climate
change. During the architectural inscription
period itself, these sea-level projections for
Copenhagen moved upwards approximately
30 centimeters, approaching the range of
a one meter rise by 2100. This change had
major implications, as islet bridges and seaside front-spaces had to be re-scaled9.
To sum up, this section situates
sustainable urban design within a changing
landscape of socio-professional knowledges
and tools. In doing so, I critique the tendency
of Jamison (2008) and other critical urban
scholars to focus narrowly on the (real)
market constraints manifested in large-scale
(and somewhat ‘context-free’) sustainable
city building projects like Nordhavn. Instead,
I suggest here to augment the ontology of
assemblage urbanism by adding an ANTinspired view on green architecture, which
sees buildings and eco-districts not as static
objects but as movable projects, emerging
through a complex ecology of contentious
knowledges, material practices, and value
Science & Technology Studies 1/2013
commitments (Latour & Yaneva, 2008;
Yaneva, 2012). In methodological terms, this
requires a site-specific approach, capable
of registering how urban building projects
change, in part through the architectural
inscription of new ecological concerns. In
the remainder of this article, I explore these
claims further by tracing how different
urban natures, in the plural, are inscribed
– and publicly contested – in the design of
Nordhavn as a sustainable city district.
The Urban Green Multiple: Nordhavn
as Ecological Matters-of-concern
Right from the brief of the international
design competition, launched in May 2008,
the future of Nordhavn has been couched
in the rhetoric of sustainable urban
development. Hosted by the powerful
Copenhagen City and Port land development
agency, in conjunction with municipal
authorities and the Architects Association
of Denmark, the competition brief frames
the task as one of envisioning “a sustainable
city district of the twenty-first century”,
capable of providing ‘future-oriented
solutions’ to such challenges as ‘climate
change and resource consumption’. Of the
180 competition entries, three were singled
out for special attention; and among these,
the joint proposal by COBE, a Copenhagenbased architectural consultancy firm,
and engineering consultancy Ramboll
was subsequently appointed winner. This
overall design vision (known as ‘Urban
Delta’) has been elaborated since, through
processes of policy and public consultation,
into a local act for the inner-most part of
Nordhavn (‘Aarhusgadekvarteret’), taking
effect in 2012 and allowing construction
to commence. Meanwhile, the Nordhavn
vision has achieved considerable attention
and circulation in professional design
circuits; in 2010, for instance, the project was
showcased and highlighted as a ‘sustainable
urban lab’ at the Venice Architecture
By the time I visit the architectural office
of COBE in late 2010, much of the initial
work of stabilizing an overall eco-sociotechnical design frame, and enrolling
urban policy allies behind it, has thus
already been achieved. Now, focus is
more on details of the local act. In terms
of urban sustainability, the overall design
principles are highlighted across a range
of architectural inscriptions, in textual and
visual form: the future Nordhavn, I learn, will
feature everything from ocean windmills,
solar panel islands and geothermal energy
to two-lane bicycle tracks, new metro
extensions, green roofs, tight housing
energy standards, climate adaptation
flood protection, and much more. While
heavily focused around climate change, the
design frame also includes various other
ecological aspects, from ample parks, trees
and other green-spaces to concerns with
urban wildlife and biodiversity. As such,
the Nordhavn design frame makes it clear
how urban sites are traversed not only by
a variety of environmental and climatic
risks (cf. November, 2004), but also by a
dense layering of multiple urban ecological
concerns, practices and attachments.
Architectural inscriptions, I suggest, thereby
enact Nordhavn as an urban green multiple.
Nordhavn represents part of a wider
climatic commitment, made public in
2009, to become the first carbon neutral
capital in the world by 2025. Importantly,
this commitment coincided in time with
Copenhagen hosting the COP15 United
Nations climate summit, an event attracting
massive international attention, and thus
branding and investment opportunities
to the city and its green-tech industries.
Indeed, Nordhavn designs enjoyed their
own exhibition space during the COP15
meeting. Following assemblage urbanism
Anders Blok
tenets, the case of Nordhavn thus exemplifies
how architectural engagements with urban
green assemblages arise in response to
a variety of ecological concerns, each
enjoying particular relations to the urban
sites in question. Hence, the Copenhagen
case clearly illustrates how anticipations
of new climatic risks, in particular, are
currently transforming the meaning and
practice of urban sites like Nordhavn, which
in turn acts to implicate cities in new moral
geographies of global carbon emissions.
There seems to be little doubt that largescale sustainable city-building projects
such as Nordhavn – and more generally the
select ideas of urban greening that enter the
realm of policy truths – stem in large part
from growing scientific, political, and public
concerns with the cascading urban risks of
climate change10.
In short, Nordhavn is presently becoming
an urban green multiple through specific
constellations of architectural, industry,
policy and public sites, knowledges
and relations, distributed throughout
Copenhagen and beyond. All of this
involves partial perspectives and conflicting
attachments. When talking to the architects
and engineers, it is clear that they view
Nordhavn partly as a fortuitous child of its
specific (trans)local political circumstances,
symbolized in the inscription of carbon
neutrality as an overall design vision for the
district. Amidst widespread concerns with
economic crises, this design enactment
of strict climatic policy ambitions looks
in hindsight like a narrow window of
opportunity. Moreover, the political
positioning of Nordhavn as an experimental
site of urban sustainability has allowed
the architects to extend their ecological
commitments beyond a narrow focus on
carbon. In other words, as ‘climate’ has been
translated, extended and contested, both in
the process of architectural inscription and
as these inscriptions enter into urban public
settings, climate has come to multiply into
a variety of ecological ‘matters-of-concern’
(cf. Latour, 2007).
Apart from extending the project further
towards material realization, however, policy
and public engagement have also served to
spur a variety of new design controversies,
centered on attachments to urban natures.
In what follows, I analyze the becoming of
Nordhavn as an urban green multiple by
unpacking some of these heterogeneous
eco-socio-technical relations – first, as they
come to be configured as specific design
objects, and later, when they are contested
as public matters of ecological concern.
In methodological terms, my analysis
relies primarily on privileged access to
extensive textual material, produced by
the architects and engineers, specifying
design principles and details of spatial
layout. This is supplemented, for contextual
understanding, by media analysis of Danish
newspaper coverage; qualitative interviews
with architects, policy-makers and activists;
and participatory observation at a local
citizens’ hearing on Nordhavn (held in
August 2011). Rather than exhaustiveness,
plantings, frogs) are meant to illustrate
the claim, integral to the concept of urban
green assemblages, that multiple urban
natures are made known and visible in
sustainable architectural practice – thereby
constraining and enabling new urban
political ecologies11.
Ocean windmills: the politics of front-yard
As part of the vision to turn Nordhavn into
a carbon-neutral eco-district, the design
frame imagines energy as flowing from
local renewable sources, including four
windmills extending into the ocean at the
tip of this urban peninsula. According to
engineering estimations, four efficient
tower-like windmills would provide one-
Science & Technology Studies 1/2013
third of the energy needed by inhabitants
in this new urban district. To the designers,
windmills clearly stand for ‘environmental
friendliness’: they explicitly state that the
windmills should “be visible to future
residents”, as this will contribute to “the
sense of living in a sustainable urban district”.
However, placing four windmills on their
visual maps of the future Nordhavn district
has also ended up entangling the designers’
‘global’ carbon ambitions into an intensely
local politics of aesthetic value. Often,
complaints over unwanted side-effects of
large-scale windmills are simply overheard
in the name of low-carbon progress. In the
case of Nordhavn, however, the neighbors
that would be affected happen to possess
quite some economic and political
resources; and their protests have exerted
considerable powers of re-design, providing
a case in point of conflicting ‘cosmograms’
in urban green assemblages.
Put briefly, the dramatic cosmopolitical
events of the Nordhavn windmills can
be recounted as follows: in the course of
2010, as design visions were made public,
residents in a wealthy, Northern sea-side
suburb to Copenhagen started mobilizing
against their actual materialization.
Were the windmills to be constructed
off Nordhavn, they argued, this would
seriously impinge on their front-yard views
of a picturesque ocean seascape, damaging
the aesthetic and market values of their
property. This claim was picked up also
by influential local politicians, helping to
transform the windmills from architectural
design object into a hotly disputed political
frontline between adjacent municipalities.
From being inscribed in future-oriented
visions of sustainable urban transitions, the
windmills thus started showing up within
neighborhood association petitions and
counter-statements from environmental
NGOs. As architectural inscriptions, in
short, the Nordhavn windmills had become
publicly contested matters-of-concern, rescaled from an object of global sustainability
to a divisive issue in a local political frontline.
From this state of uncertain ontological
being, the windmills were to take another
cosmopolitical turn (Latour, 2007), as
they became judicially enrolled in the
machineries of national sovereignty in
early 2011. Allegedly through some dodgy
political maneuvering12, the windmills now
became part of a national parliamentary
law-making exercise to determine the future
of the Copenhagen harbor. In a left-right
political scenography, the right-of-center
government eventually terminated the life
of the Nordhavn windmills by juridical fiat,
much to the dismay of Copenhagen urban
planners. In consequence, the vision of a
carbon-neutral eco-district has now been
placed in doubt, even before any new
buildings have emerged on site. When
interrogated on the point during public
hearings, municipal planners say they are
now looking to solar panels as a substitution;
as such, the politics of low-carbon energy
looks set to continue by other material
means, implying further work of eco-sociotechnical reassembling.
Green plantings: socializing (in) urban
To future inhabitants of the Nordhavn ecodistrict, the area will look, feel and smell
not only blue – owing to its ocean proximity
– but also green, as trees, parks, housingfaçade plantings and rooftop gardens will
make for ample sensuous connections to
varied vegetation landscapes. In this vision
of a literal urban greening, Copenhagen
architects join urban designers around the
world, given that the multiple values of
green-space has by now entered the mobile
circuits of city planning truths. According to
the Nordhavn designers, the many greenspaces of this district will provide aesthetic
and recreational benefits to their users;
Anders Blok
foster living-spaces for diverse populations
of non-human species; and help collect and
channel excess water during heavy rains.
Moreover, ample green-spaces are also part
of fostering a certain place-identity, making
the area attractive to environmentallyconscious (and, presumably, financially
well-off ) middle classes. In the words of the
designers, it will make the city district feel
“open, friendly and livable”.
Echoing assemblage urbanism thinking,
the design frame of architects and engineers
thus stages urban greenery as one amongst
a range of highly important non-human
actors whose services have to be enrolled,
and socialized, in order to realize the
vision of a sustainable Nordhavn. Indeed,
their designs exude high hopes on the part
of urban vegetation-making. On the one
hand, as noted, a dense and variegated
landscape of greenery is imagined to shape
the urban district as accessible, friendly,
safe and livable; small parks, for instance,
positioned in-between compact living- and
work-places, provide breathing spaces for
relaxation, contemplation and play. On the
other hand, urban greenery mediates the
effort to minimize risks of climate change,
without the need for active participation
on the part of would-be inhabitants: green
façades and rooftops cool down the interior
of buildings, thus lowering energy needs
in a heated future. In this way, vegetation
is socialized to act as a bio-technology
of micro-climatic control, serving to
counter-act the accumulated effects of
anthropogenic climate-making.
Judging from media coverage, and
unlike the ocean windmills, the projected
green vegetation of Nordhavn enjoys wide
public support, set amidst a range of civic
association and community group activities
to establish small-scale urban farming, treeplanting, and rooftop greening projects
across Copenhagen. To the urban designers,
however, the greening of Nordhavn also
implicitly addresses a more serious concern:
how to ensure those qualities of an attractive
and vibrant urban public life that has so far
escaped recent efforts at large-scale urban
planning in Copenhagen? One answer,
on the part of architects, is that buildingnear greenery may act to “draw life from
inside houses and into the streets”, serving
as a “boundary zone between private and
public states of dwelling”. In this sense,
while socializing vegetation for human ends
(i.e. climate adaptation), architects are also
humanizing vegetation for social ends (i.e.
an attractive public atmosphere). Indeed,
consistent with the idea of urban green
assemblages, the two concerns merge in a
singular place-based ecology of human and
non-human practices.
Protected frogs: urban wild co-habitation?
The derelict post-industrial area on the
outer parts of Nordhavn, furthest removed
from the city, consists in low-vegetation
grasslands that are home to migratory bird
species, rare butterflies, and an estimated
600 green toads. According to the design
frame, much of this urban wild landscape
is destined to stay untouched – or rather,
to be actively blended into the nearby
emerging city, thus providing residents
with a sensation of closeness to ‘nature’.
Here, Nordhavn architects and engineers
imagine nature as a graded scale, running
from the ‘urban-like’ to the ‘wild’, with each
landscape along the way providing its own
set of human and non-human affordances.
Closer to the wild pole, “children may play
while learning about plant and animal
species”, and “residents may cultivate fruit
plantations”; closer to the urban pole,
human-made greenery landscapes provide
a ‘livable atmosphere’. This is all part, in the
language of designers, of strengthening the
‘nature content’ and ‘biological variation’ of
the city district.
In many ways, Nordhavn thus emerges as
a site where the value of non-human spaces,
Science & Technology Studies 1/2013
co-habitation and flourishing – in short, of
‘urban wild things’ (Hinchliffe et al., 2005)
– seems comparatively well entrenched
in expert and citizen networks of urban
planning. One important condition for such
multispecies co-habitation, no doubt, are
the many amateur conservationists and
bird-watch enthusiasts, who frequent the
site, make observations, and report data
on animal sightings to relevant authorities.
Such ‘concerned groups’ (Callon et al., 2009)
help knowing and inscribing animal beings
into the sites, documents and considerations
of urban planning professionals. This work
is enabled, moreover, by various legal
instruments, which provide non-human
animals a certain standing in expert
decision-making processes. Mandatory
for instance, institute a space of public
accountability whereby spokespersons of
animals may have a say in what constitutes
a sustainable politics of co-habitation.
This is true even as wildlife enthusiasts, in
interview, express some concerns for the
future of the district.
In Nordhavn, by far the best protected
non-human is the green toad (Bufo viridis).
As a species designated protection-worthy
by the European Union (EU) Habitat
Directive, this toad inhabits and enrolls an
urban green assemblage that stretches well
beyond its own place-based ecology. In its
legal capacity, the green toad thus illustrates
the importance attached to scale-making in
assemblage urbanism; embodying powerful
transnational connections, the protected
green toad acquires significant moralpolitical standing in its local (cosmo)political
setting. Even as urban developments will
only gradually encroach on its present
habitats, the contours of a conflict-ridden
toad-centered cosmopolitics is already
visible; with plans to move the Copenhagen
cruise ship harbor outward, in the direction
of toad territory, terminals, trucks and
tourists will emerge as new menaces to this
version of biodiversity. In countermeasure, a
set of green engineering techniques – in the
shape of new toad-friendly fences, canals,
substitute habitats and road exits – are
being mobilized by designers. Here, at least,
sustainable architecture, and sustainable
urbanism, explicitly means building for
humans and non-humans alike.
Conclusion: A New Urban Green
Cosmopolitics for STS?
While STS is yet to pay extensive attention
to cities as massive socio-technical artifacts,
this article suggests that things may be slowly
changing as assemblage urbanism help
bring actor-network theory (ANT) to bear
on core issues of urban studies. Foremost
amongst these issues, I argue, should be
those practices of urban ecology, low-carbon
transition, and sustainable architecture
which are presently shaping the cultural
and political agendas of cities worldwide.
ANT is well placed, I suggest, to elucidate
the (cosmo)politics of sustainable urban
design, given its ecological commitment to
a view of how situated worlds are shaped
in heterogeneous knowledge practices that
enroll both human and non-human actors.
As cities are increasingly confronted with
new environmental and climatic risks, the
tools, practices, and value commitments
of architects, engineers and city planners
are emerging as key sites for STS to explore,
engage and debate. Partaking in a largescale reassembling of nature, technology
and society, the complex ecologies of
sustainable architecture are nowadays
central components of global environmental
In theoretical terms, my argument
engages two promising strands of ANT
encounter with cities-in-the-making in
order to forge the concept of urban green
assemblages as a key tool for interrogating
Anders Blok
processes of urban sustainability (re)
design. Drawing together discussions on
assemblage urbanism (e.g. Farías, 2010)
and architectural practice (e.g. Yaneva,
2009), I define urban green assemblages as
ensembles of heterogeneous actors, human
and non-human, that orient themselves
towards the practical redesign of urban ecosocio-technical relations in the direction
of (some sense of ) ‘sustainability’. Like
other urban assemblages, urban greening
practices involve changing constellations
of sites, objects and actors, from architects
and engineers to regulators, green-tech
companies, civic associations and urban
residents, coalescing at shifting levels of
proximity and distance, from the ‘local’
(e.g. a specific eco-house) to the ‘global’
(e.g. climate change projections). Indeed,
via the notion of the urban green multiple
– conceived as one particular form of
urban green assemblage – I stress the
inherent multiplicity of ecological concerns,
practices, and attachments that come to
be juxtaposed, and publicly contested, in
projects of sustainable architecture and
urban design (cf. Mol, 2002; Yaneva, 2012).
Empirically, I deploy this notion of
urban green assemblages in a case study
of one of Europe’s large-scale sustainable
city building projects, situated in the postindustrial harbor district of Copenhagen,
known as Nordhavn. In analyzing how
urban natures are multiply inscribed in the
architectural and engineering visions for
the future of this eco-district – confidently
cast as ‘the sustainable city of the future’
– I highlight how the design process
impinges upon, and articulates, a variety of
overlapping matters of ecological concern.
Alongside those ‘global’ political visions of
carbon neutrality that come to be translated
into a locally sensitive politics of windmills,
designers take into account a range of more
‘vernacular’ ecological attachments, from
housing greenery to endangered toads,
allotting each their niche in a conflict-ridden
balancing of eco-socio-technical relations.
As an urban green multiple, the design
frame for Nordhavn embodies a gradually
evolving cosmogram of more-than-human
co-habitation (Latour, 2007).
On this note, however, processes and
realities of urban political ecology come to
the fore; and I want to end this discussion by
briefly suggesting what ANT may imply in
terms of rethinking such political ecology. In
this respect, it seems important to consider
the inherently preliminary character of my
empirical case study; while the professional
urban design frame for the future of
Nordhavn is by now largely stabilized, this
represents only a first approximation of
those multiple processes of translation and
contestation whereby this Copenhagen ecodistrict will gradually attain material shape.
As the tale of the Nordhavn windmills show,
otherwise stabilized design objects may
suddenly be turned into publicly contested
and legally erasable matters-of-concern,
situated in unequal processes of contentious
(cosmo)political negotiation. Nordhavn,
in short, will continue to be a movable
project rather than a static object (cf. Latour
& Yaneva, 2008) – implying that it will be
important for STS analysts and practitioners
alike to consider what may count as ‘due
process’ in sustainable city-making (cf.
Latour, 2007). My answer, in brief, is urban
collective experimentation and learning (cf.
Farías, 2011; McFarlane, 2011).
As STS researcher, the inherent
future-orientation of sustainable citybuilding
methodological and normative challenges.
In methodological terms, STS engagement
with sustainable urban design will have
to concern itself centrally with how future
visions come to have performative effects in
the present. Indeed, via the techno-science
of climate change risks, much contemporary
concern with urban low-carbon transitions
Science & Technology Studies 1/2013
– including, to a large extent, in Nordhavn
– is at root a performative effect of
specific anticipated futures. Studying how
architects, engineers, and urban planners
mediate such future-oriented climate
inscriptions, and how they scale divergent
moral-political concerns in site-specific
ways, is an important analytical task for
further work on urban green assemblages
(cf. Yaneva, 2005; Slater & Ariztía, 2010).
Temporal questions, however, should also
be extended further: How, for instance, do
urban planners imagine the organization
of maintenance and repair around future
green eco-socio-technical infrastructures?
(cf. Graham & Thrift, 2007). From an ANT
(and STS) perspective, there is every reason
to insist on the importance of such mundane
questions – and to cast them in the language
of collective experimentation and learning –
even as they tend to be sidelined somewhat
in the hyperbolic ‘futurism’ of much
sustainable urban design rhetoric.
On the other hand, and on a more
normative note, the long-term temporality of
urban sustainable design projects – together
with their self-consciously open-ended
character – also entails that STS researchers
will by necessity have to conceptualize
themselves as situated participants to
such collective urban experimentation (cf.
Hinchliffe et al., 2005; Evans & Karvonen,
2010). In this respect, the commitment
of assemblage urbanism to democratic,
public, and inclusive forms of knowledgemaking, in and beyond expert sites of
urban planning, provides an important
set of questions that ought to inform STS
engagements with sustainable urbanism
(cf. Farías, 2011; McFarlane, 2011). Situated
in Nordhavn, for instance, questions should
be raised in terms of how inclusive public
participation in critical design decisions
could perhaps be furthered – by drawing
inspiration, for instance, from ‘contextrich’ traditions in sustainable architecture
(cf. Moore & Karvonen, 2008) – beyond
the somewhat techno-centric practices
of the present design frame? Likewise, to
paraphrase Latour (2007), in the specific
case of urban windmill cosmopolitics, how
might this contestation of (un)sustainable
energy cosmograms be turned from its
present state of disarray into a well-ordered
cosmos of human and non-human cohabitation? While no easy answers to this
question seems forthcoming, it seems
equally obvious that the actual (cosmo)
political process in this case was far, indeed,
from any sense of ‘due process’.
Further specifying what collective
experimentation and learning around urban
green assemblages entail, and how STS may
participate most fruitfully in it, will have
to await further empirical and theoretical
engagement. Meanwhile, the present article
has aimed to open up a set of important
conversations, in and beyond STS, on the
future of urban natures. By bringing the
multiple agencies of natures and ecologies
to bear more forcefully on urban politics,
and by providing urban studies with a
different ontology of cities-in-the-making, it
is my conviction that ANT and assemblage
urbanism may slowly help change city life
in more sustainable directions. To echo
Coutard and Guy (2007), bringing ANT into
urban ecology, I believe, is a way of infusing
hope into both, as we undertake to redesign
the climate of cities for the 21st century.
The author expresses his gratitude to
Copenhagen City and Port (By & Havn)
for granting him generous access to the
Nordhavn design material. He is grateful
also to architects at COBE who took time out
of their busy calendars to talk to him. Finally,
he thanks his research assistant, Marie Leth
Meilvang, for helping him organize the
empirical data.
Anders Blok
One recent survey of 100 largescale cities around the world finds
a total of 626 urban climate change
‘experiments’, mainly in the sectors of
urban infrastructure, built environment
and transport, and most numerous in
European, Latin American and Asian
cities (Bulkeley, 2012).
This article is part of an on-going
empirical research project, aiming
sustainability and climate change
projects in three larger-scale cities
in three different parts of the world:
Europe); Kyoto (Japan/East Asia); and
Surat (India/South Asia). Given this
article’s more theoretical ambitions, I
focus here solely on the Copenhagen
case, pushing the comparative
dimensions ahead of me as a further
challenge for STS and assemblage
urbanism (see McFarlane, 2010).
Throughout this article, the notion of
‘sustainability’ refers (unless otherwise
stated) only to ‘environmental
sustainability’. In policy rhetoric,
including the rhetoric surrounding
Nordhavn, it is common to use the term
in a broader sense, to include social
and economic dimensions. Given
my analytical focus on urban green
assemblages, however, this broader set
of debates is beyond the scope of my
The contrast drawn up here between
‘critical’ and ‘assemblage’ urbanism
derives from on-going debates set
on the intellectual territory of urban
studies (e.g. McFarlane, 2011; Farías,
2011). While space prevents a fuller
discussion, I want to acknowledge that
more critical-constructive conceptual
engagement with various urban
theories, on the part of STS, is certainly
warranted (see, e.g., Yaneva, 2012).
Urban sustainability is one domain
is needed between urban studies,
innovation studies, ANT, and wider
STS work on Large Technical Systems
– particularly around the key notion of
‘infrastructure’ (see Monstadt, 2009;
Blok, 2012b). In a different context, I
am part of an international research
project that explores these issues
through the notion of ‘environmental
Unsurprisingly, Moore and Karvonen
(2008: 42) emphasize the strong
contextrich design thinking and core STS
In my wider project, I research a Kyotobased eco-house construction project
that draws heavily on (Japanese)
context-bound design thinking. As
for Copenhagen, the examples are
numerous, and would include various
urban community gardening and
alternative-technology civil society
When I asked one of the Nordhavn
architects about the challenges posed
by working so closely together with
engineers, he simply laughed and
said: “I think the stereotype of the
pipe-smoking architect sitting lonely
in his office is 50 years behind us”!
within sustainable building projects
are an important topic for further STS
exploration, but it is beyond the scope
of this article.
Notions of scaling are crucial in
the practice of architecture, where
modeling at different scales serve as
a means of gaining new knowledge of
spaces. For an elegant STS elucidation,
see Yaneva (2005).
Science & Technology Studies 1/2013
10 In the survey previously mentioned
(Bulkeley, 2012), conducted in 2009,
the vast majority of urban climate
change experiments were found to
have been initiated within the last five
years. This testifies to the specific and
recent temporality in the link between
climatic risks and urban territories.
11 A fuller account of the Nordhavn site
would encompass several additional
urban natures-in-the-making, revolving around such eco-political objects
as metros, bicycles, algae, and floodprotection barriers. The analyses presented here should be seen as a first
empirical approximation, pointing the
way towards more exhaustive accounts
of this and other urban green assemblages.
12 Basically, a case of pork barrel politics:
one national member of parliament,
party, happened to also be a local
representative of the anti-windmill
municipality, making for strong
allegations against him for practicing
an untimely mixing of jurisdictional
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Anders Blok
Department of Sociology
Copenhagen University
Øster Farimagsgade 5, Bldg. 16
DK-1014 København K, Denmark
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