Learning from Demonstration? Developing Construction for Sustainability

Christian Koch *, 1, Niels Haldor Bertelsen 2
1 Chalmers University of Technology, Sven Hultinsgata 8, SE-41296 Gothenburg, Sweden
2 Danish Building Research Institute, Aalborg University, A. C. Meyers Vænge 15, 2450 København, Denmark

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© 2014 Koch and Bertelsen

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Chalmers University of Technology, Sven Hultinsgata 8, SE-41296 Gothenburg, Sweden; Tel: +46317721959; Mobile: +46766345122; E-mail:


Demonstration projects are often used in the building sector to provide a basis for using new processes and/or products. The climate change agenda implies that construction is not only required to deliver value for the customer, cost reductions and efficiency but also sustainable buildings. This paper reports on an early demonstration project, the building of a passive house dormitory in the Central Region of Denmark in 2006-2009. The project was supposed to deliver value, lean design, prefabrication, quality in sustainability, certification according to German standards for passive houses, and micro combined heat and power using hydrogen. Using sociological and business economic theories of innovation, the paper discusses how early movers of innovation tend to obtain only partial success when demonstrating their products and often feel obstructed by minor details. The empirical work encompasses both an evaluation of the design and construction process as well as a post-occupancy evaluation. Process experiences include the use of a multidisciplinary competence group and performance measurement. The commencement of the project was enthusiastic, but it was forced into more traditional forms of control, driven by such challenges as complying with cost goals, the need to choose a German prefab supplier, and local contractors. Energy calculations, indoor climate, issues related to square meter requirements, and the hydrogen element became problematic. The aim to obtain passive house certification prevailed over realizing a good indoor climate, which included sufficient heating. Project management must be able to handle quantitative complexity where simple issues add up to major challenges.

Keywords: Demonstration projects, innovation, learning, prefabrication, passive houses, Denmark.