Table I summarises the mechanisms that allow green design knowledges to travel. It reveals that a range of actors are involved in the mobilisation of knowledge, with actors all having their own political-economic motivations for disseminating knowledges. Because the aim of this paper is not to unpick the way circulation itself occurs, a more detailed analysis of the mechanisms by which knowledges travel is not provided here. As already noted, others (Bathelt et al. 2004; Bathelt and Schultz 2007; Faulconbridge 2006 2010; Grabher 2001; McCann 2004 2011; Peck and Theodore 2001; Ward 2006) have provided extensive discussion of such issues and the ideas outlined in the literature review about the social processes of learning in communities of practice (via face-to-face and virtual interactions) and the role of policy networks/mobilities for allowing best practice to circulate (travelling technocrats, conferences, study tours) can all be applied directly to the case of green building design. In the rest of the paper focus falls instead on the third institutional issue flagged in the literature review; as one interviewee put it, the way mobilising knowledges require ‘adaption to the local context … We’re always on the lookout for what seems to be interesting overseas and how we can adapt it here’ (18, Architect, Australian practice, emphasis added). This issue is explored through Scott’s (2008) three pillars framework because it highlights how mobilised knowledges interact in complex multi-dimensional ways with situated institutional regimes.
The regulative, normative and cultural-cognitive dimensions of green design
The regulative dimension of institutions has both a direct and indirect effect on buildings and approaches to green design. The direct effect relates to geographical heterogeneity in building codes (on which see Imrie 2007). Heterogeneity exists between countries, and also at the sub-national scale. For instance, in Australia, as in the USA, different state-level regulations exist as regards the environmental performance of buildings. In New South Wales, BASIX (the Building Sustainability Index), introduced in 2004, requires that all new homes include design features that reduce water and energy consumption. In contrast, a number of other Australian states have no or different regulatory regimes. The impact of such heterogeneity in codes on buildings and mobilising knowledges was described by one design manager working in Sydney as follows:
You go down to Melbourne the power is generally brown coal, so it’s very high carbon … So cogen [co-generation of electricity for multiple buildings within a development] seems to be favoured in Melbourne because of those issues. So you do get slightly different outcomes … So I think if you picked this building up [an exemplar of sustainability in Sydney scoring five stars in a recent assessment] and plonked it down in Canberra it could only be four star. You end up with slightly different answers for different places. (19, Australian head of design, global property development firm)
The result of the direct effects of the regulatory pillar is, then, to render some mobilising knowledges illegitimate when transferred to new institutional contexts – i.e. deemed inappropriate or less valuable in the eyes of building regulators in the context of their green priorities, or simply prohibited in the context of rules and regulations; a combination of both forms of illegitimacy leading the interviewee quoted above to suggest a building would receive a different grading of its green credentials in different states within Australia. And, the regulative dimension has further indirect effects that create additional impediments to knowledge mobilisation.
Illustrating the indirect effect of the regulative pillar is the case of the refurbishment of buildings to lower energy and water consumption; a vital part of green design strategies. Specifically, past urban planning regimes and their effects on inherited building stocks (on which see D’Arcy and Keogh 1997) render green refurbishment solutions context-specific. For example, in relation to commercial office space, Willis (1995) shows that the design on New York City’s skyscraper building stock has been heavily influenced by a combination of not only mid-twentieth-century developer demands for maximum return on investment, demands often higher in New York City (above 10%) than other comparable cities (usually around 9%), but also mid-twentieth-century urban planning regulations associated with the ‘zoning envelope’. Zoning envelope principles were in part designed to maintain agreeable conditions for pedestrians and dictated that tall buildings must not excessively reduce levels of natural light at ground level. The ‘wedding cake’ skyscraper design, exemplified most iconically by the Empire State Building, thus emerged because it met the priorities of both market (return on investment) and planning (zoning envelope) institutions by allowing maximum floor space (through large floor plates at lower levels) and high levels of natural light for pedestrians (enabled by narrower floor plates at higher levels). In terms of the implications for knowledges relating to green design, this New York skyscraper specific structure has a significant effect on the organisation of key energy consuming services and also affects the amount of natural light and heat a building is exposed to. As Willis (1995, 79) puts it, this example shows how ‘finance dictates fenestration’ with large floor plates, often in excess of 2000 metres square at the lower levels of wedding-cake structure buildings, requiring heating, cooling and lighting systems designed to cope with chasm-like, dark and heat retaining spaces and unique airflows generated by the narrowing floor plates at higher levels; challenges that do not exist in many other buildings in New York and in skyscrapers in other cities.
The existence of such unique challenges in New York City means that distinctive design communities emerge, with the approaches to green design developed in communities focused on refurbishing wedding-cake skyscrapers being less relevant to other communities; for example those refurbishing skyscrapers in another city where buildings were not designed using the wedding-cake style, or even those working on non-wedding-cake style office space in New York. Hence knowledges do not necessarily travel particularly well between spaces, meaning that although refurbishment has recently begun of the Empire State Building with the aim of reducing energy consumption by 40 per cent and making the building an icon of green design (see Pilkington 2010), in reality the challenges being addressed are in many ways unique to New York and the city’s wedding-cake skyscrapers. And, it is not just these regulative institutional effects that render green design challenges context-specific.
The normative dimension of institutions determines what, as a result of political-economic context, is deemed socially legitimate and expected, in particular, by occupiers in terms of a building’s design, facilities and internal spatial layout. One of the most notable examples interviewees gave of this relates to hospital design. Variations in design between public and private healthcare provision exist because of patients’ normative expectations about service standards. Public health care systems tend to lead to hospital operators demanding designs that incorporate large communal wards that are relatively cost efficient, reflecting the fact that patient expectations render such accommodation legitimate, if not liked. In contrast, in private systems hospital operators demand designs that allow individual rooms for patients, reflecting expectations that the subscriptions paid ensure an almost hotel-like service. In terms of green design challenges, differences in layouts between public and private funded systems are significant in two ways. First, the distinctive layouts affect the way air circulates, with each requiring a different solution as part of attempts to reduce energy used for heating and cooling. In the case of public hospitals, large communal wards may stretch from one side of the building to another and have multiple windows. This means cross-flows of air are enhanced and can reduce the need for mechanical cooling. In contrast, in private hospitals many private rooms fragment space within the building. Hence cross-flows of air are reduced and, therefore, technologies that minimise the electricity consumption of mechanical ventilation systems are often a more realistic way to render the building less environmentally harmful. In addition, second, the different layouts of public and private hospitals have also over time created different expectations from patients about heating and cooling systems, patients in public healthcare systems becoming accustomed to naturally ventilated spaces in which the bedside fan is a key tool for cooling, patients in private healthcare systems, reflecting assumptions about hotel-like service, being accustomed to air-conditioned comfort.
Consequently, both between countries – e.g. the National Health Service in the UK versus the private healthcare system in the USA – and within countries, for example where a public healthcare system is complemented by an optional private healthcare system for those wealthy enough to afford additional subscriptions, variations exist in situated normative expectations, and in turn approaches taken to green hospital design. Knowledges may therefore travel relatively easily between hospitals operating within the same type of public or private healthcare system, but may not travel well between heterogeneous contexts. And when combined with the effects of the kinds of regulative influences described above, and the cultural-cognitive logics outlined below, normative effects mean the value of the mobilisation of knowledges apparently begins to reduce as green design approaches are revealed to be more and more specific to a particular institutional context.
In terms of the cultural-cognitive, whilst it would be misleading to over-generalise, interviewees suggested that there is a strong relationship between the regulative dimension and cultural-cognitive sense-making frames. Illustrating this idea, the Plumbing Code of Australia, which each state has incorporated into its building codes, sets out clear guidelines for water preservation, in particular with reference to risk scenarios generated by the national government that predict Australia will face severe water shortages in the future as a result of climate change. Other water-related initiatives in Australia include the National Water Initiative, Water Smart Australia, and the Raising National Water Standards programme. The combined effect of codes, various initiatives and the high cost in Australia of water is to institutionalise water preservation as a core part of thinking about building design. Hence in Australia building professionals and speculators expect to invest time and money in a range of design techniques that reduce water consumption – it is part of their mental maps of the legitimate way to approach building design – even though the Plumbing Code of Australia only mandates a limited number of water-saving features such as dual flush toilets. This creates an opportunity to introduce into already normalised discussions of water preservation during the design process techniques that go way beyond regulatory requirements such as grey and black water recycling (recycling water put down the sink and toilet respectively).
In contrast, whilst in the UK codes also mandate water-use minimisation, such issues are seen as being of peripheral importance compared with the focus on energy-use reduction, in part because of the ease of achieving the relatively lax standards for water reduction, in part because of perceptions (which are not entirely correct) of a less severe threat of drought in the UK, and in part because of relatively low water costs. Hence, expending design effort and cost on water preservation is an unusual and effectively illegitimate practice, with water preservation rarely discussed in the design process; such discussions being seen as abnormal or at best a luxury that most cannot afford because of the financial implications. This limits the ability of designers to introduce innovations such as black and grey water recycling. As two interviewees summarised:
The architects sit face to face with the client and the client says this is business as usual, and you’re saying it’s going to cost me 3 per cent more or 6 per cent more. How do the architects justify it, how do they explain the value of green building? Regulation is the easiest way, the government made us do it cough up … If it takes any more dollars, anything that’s different to normal we have to justify that. (23, Sustainability Manager, Australian professional association)
the environmental problems that they face in Australia have pushed buildings to be much more water efficient. And so our latest office in Melbourne, 92 per cent of the water is recycled on site, they’ve got black water recycling facilities in an office building in a CBD. You’d never have anything like that in the UK at the moment so that’s an example of them really pushing something that we are not pushing over here [in the UK]. (5, UK Sustainability Manager, global property development firm)
This does not mean that strict codes are the only way to generate the cultural-cognitive context for the incorporation of green design features. Building professionals, speculators and, in particular, commercial occupiers in certain sectors increasingly seek to accrue reputational advantages from being associated with or occupying a green building. But, when institutional complexes lead to such reputation-driven cultural-cognitive logics dominating design decisions, the types of design chosen tend to be very different when compared with design decisions driven by ways of thinking underlain by regulation or imperatives such as the cost of water (for more on this see Cidell 2009). In particular, when reputational advantages are sought, visual technological approaches that act as symbols of ‘green-ness’ are often preferred – things such as wind turbines on the roof of a building. Some interviewees referred to such approaches as the deployment of ‘green bling’. As one put it:
I’m thinking one particular client who I’ll decline to name, who said that their philosophy for this particular building was to put PVs [photo voltaics], wind generators, solar hot water and a CHP [combined heat and power] unit on this building. And we said hang on a minute why do you need all of those? Why are you engineering such a hefty solution when we can actually get you to similar levels of energy consumption with very little [technological] engineering involved? (9, Director, UK sustainability consultancy firm)
The incorporation of wind turbines hung between the two towers of the Bahrain World Trade Centre is exemplary of such market-led cultural-cognitive logics, the concern being about the public image of sustainability generated as much as about the reductions in carbon impact achieved.
Table II expands the discussions above and provides further detail of the effects of situated institutions on green design. In summary, as Guy notes, institutions mean
Table II. The three pillars of institutions and their effects on green building design
| Pillar || Effect || Further examples |
| Regulative: Formal rules, codes and protocols, enforced using sanctions for non-compliance||Compelled inclusion of particular design features. Generation of peculiar design challenges (in new and inherited building stocks) associated with the meeting of standards.||Schools may be segregated by gender or have particular facilities and spaces (e.g. prayer rooms) as a result of the policies of national or regional educational regimes. Thermal comfort standards (maximum and minimum temperature envelope of a building) may vary and create unique heating/cooling challenges.|
| Normative: Social expectations, ‘rules of the game’, associated with space design and service provision in a building ||Space within buildings expected to be organised in a particular way. Certain facilities valued and demanded by occupiers. Taken for granted assumptions about standards of comfort in a building.||Social hierarchy in China demands separate entrance/exits for workers and managers. Expectations about whether offices are air-conditioned varies both between places and commercial sectors. Provision of showering facilities for cyclists expected in some cultures but not others. |
| Cultural-cognitive: Priorities defined by cognitive frames, sense-making logics, beliefs and shared heuristic devices||Speculators and occupiers develop particular ways of thinking about sustainability. Certain green design issues included in or excluded from the mental maps of those designing buildings.||Discourses of the state or national and regional professional associations generate different perceptions between countries or industry sectors of the legitimacy of sustainability as a consideration in the design process. The perceived importance of particular green design features as a result of local/regional/national climates and environmental risk.|
although two identical buildings … may well appear physically and materially similar, investigations into their respective modes of production and consumption may reveal profoundly different design rationales. (2006, 653)
For geographers interested in architecture and sustainability, and not just the green design dimensions of sustainability, the institutional perspective developed here is powerful because of its ability reveal the way that combinations of rules, norms and cultural mindsets that have been previously documented in isolation (e.g. Imrie 2007; Jacobs 2006; Lees 2001) together generate situated built forms. And as such, an institutional perspective is not a replacement for existing geographical approaches to studying architecture, but is a way of extending understanding of the multiple interacting forces producing situated designs. And an institutional approach can also provide a way of interpreting the effects of knowledge mobilisation on situated building designs when used to explain why knowledges circulating between communities and places experience a journey and process of re-embedding that is far from straightforward, teleological and predictable in terms of effects.