In the past years, the Danish Construction sector has been moving towards sustainability, and different actions took place in order to develop Copenhagen, such as the reconfiguration of new areas, interventions and green initiatives. Therefore, the goal of this text is to use Arenas of Development (AoD) lenses to identify an unconfigured space within the urban context of the city. The approach might analyse the transformation of the space, conflicts between different actors and how they navigate within this constellation that they are embedded in. Considering that AoD theory goal is on transition, this text focus is on energy efficient buildings and housing, when in use, as part of the Danish construction sector intervention.

The text is divided in three main parts. The first part describes the conceptual framework of AoD, the second part illustrates the case of Nordhavn – a project that had the opportunity to reconfigure a space towards sustainability, while the third part concludes the analysis.

Theoretical framework


The goal of AoD is to redefine an unconfigured places and spaces to script a change, shifting from sectors to societal functions. For that reason,  an arena – (space for social material interactions) supports the structure to understand the actors performances and navigations in the particular framework, consequently,  affecting on how the actors relate to each other (U. Jørgesen, 2010). But, these actors does not always have a full overview of the outcome during the transition process, which might generate claims, conflicts and competition, yet they are willing to participate. These participation can be by engaging more actors to enrol in their vision or by excluding selected ones, which is a similar action taken in  transition management (TM), where the results depend on actors and their role in the development process  (Pineda, A. F., & Jørgensen, U., 2015). See more info in the previous post here. Therefore, AoD focuses on creating something that becomes determining, such as a person or regulations, technologies and social arrangements that defines the matter of concern.

Junction, navigation and transition mediator

In an urban context, junctions occur when the socio-material assembles of an urban fabric (different practices, infrastructure, and subsystem) overlaps, and generate tensions and ambiguities within an urban space, in system or practices. Thus, junctions are sites where social rules are violated and the character of the space became unstable and compromised – when the function is not used for the main purpose. One example of a junction is the abandoned area of Nordhavn, which has traces of an old industrial port and it is not connected with the inner part of Copenhagen.

Consequently, transition mediators appears to understand how the navigation action are distributed and translated in the direction of  a change. Thus, transition mediators can be understood as a constellation of actors trying to act on conflicts to produce a change – intervention and transformative agents which might redefine the socio material assemblages at a socio technical system. For example, the engagement and relationship of different developers (researchers, urban planners, etc.) and the old port (as a space) to create possibilities and innovative paths for Nordhavn. Even if the results are difficult to foresee , the willingness towards the vision might drive the actors to establish boundaries and opportunities towards a transition.

Based on that, and in order to understand the actors involvement in an undefined place, the navigation concept can be introduced. The navigation is a tool to define activities which urban actors can engage and furthermore create alternative boundaries among the socio material assemblages at a specific junction, based on a vision or a transition path. For example, the goal of Nordhavn is to become a green neighbourhood, which is an urban intervention within the city – the elements which compose the area, such low energy houses, are transformative agents at that particular junction. However, the navigational concept is not based on the vision, but in the relations (interaction, enrolment, script) at the particular junction. The description of junction, navigation and mediators are based on Jensen, J. S., Lauridsen, E. H., Fratini, C. F., & Hoffmann, B. (2015) perspectives.

Nordhavn case – an opportunity to plan a green neighbourhood

Nordhavn was an old industrial port area in the inner city of Copenhagen. The port have functioned, for several years, as a point to load and unload products for the industrial activity of Copenhagen. However, the region have been left behind regarding urban expansion development, until a decision was made to reconfigure Nordhavn and integrate the north part of the city. A competition was organised in 2008 for ideas, and in 2009 the project selected was announced (see winners here). The construction started on 2011 and is expected to be finished by 2050 (DAC, accessed 2015).

The decision was made based on several facts, which one is the fact that Copenhagen expects 100.000 new residents by 2025, thus, need  to create residential and commercial spaces to accommodate the population growth (Nordhavnen, accessed 2015). Therefore, few developers and the city body planning committee visualised an opportunity to reconfigure the region by proposing an innovative strategy towards a vision , which is to build a new neighbourhood of Copenhagen and provide 40 000 units for  residences and the same amount for commercial spaces (DAC, accessed 2015). The case of Nordhavn, then,  illustrates a case of  a junction, whereas it is a project that has been identified to be reconfigured towards a transformation.

The actions were performed by actors or actors constellations which have different standpoints – such as energy advisors, building companies, technologies devices to control the temperature of the houses and architects. Thus, mediators manoeuvre the junction for transformation (Pineda, A. F., & Jørgensen, U., 2015). However, they are not necessarily  aligned, considering that urban development projects often change the socio technical system of an area, bringing conflict between actors involved  (Späth, P., & Rohracher, H. , 2014).

For example, the tension observed in Nordhavn is about the high ambitious plan for energy efficiency (thermal insulation technologies vs. the energy supply of the area), whereas the developers have been investing in high energy technologies – rather than communicating ideas with other actor, such as architects and energy advisors.  In the environmental perspective is better to use less material components, but still have a high efficient indoor climate. While, in the economical perspective the ideal option is to use a better material that requires low maintenance and last longer – rather than applying a minimum amount of the material and keep using renewable energy supply, even these are based on wind turbines and geothermal systems. These confrontations can directly influence the building layout and performance, whereas the m2 of the houses will be reduced since the amount of insulation may increase. It will also affect the amount of renewable energy used, which may be much less of what is available, since the houses wont need as much heating as a normal house because of the insulation thickness on walls, floor and roof.  Additionally, this situation can impact on inhabitants usage of the building, whereas it requires a different practice compared with standard houses. Al theses conflicts are related to the different standpoint between renewable energy availability and thermal insulation thickness applied in the buildings and housings, both aiming for energy efficient houses but yet competing.

The tension between actors in the case of Nordhavn  is similar to the case called Conflicting strategies towards sustainable heating at an urban junction of heat infrastructure and building standards, by Späth, P., & Rohracher, H. (2014). In both cases , the energy supply competes with another system, generating conflicts to the space under development.

Overall, Nordhavn aims to offer many ways to live more sustainable and CO2 friendly.  Therefore, a navigational response to the junction was to reconfigure the place by building energy efficient houses and retrofitting the few existing ones (Tækker, 2014). Considering that Nordhavn is located in an area with a different temperature compared to the inner city, the combination of shared renewable energy, good insulation and shading (building orientation) might be the solution, as has been designed so far. Consequently, the building can get a gold certificate , as required (Nordhavnen, accessed 2015). Therefore, the navigation requires knowledge to enrol actors within these different theme of the main Nordhavn strategy, which are : islets and canal, identity and cultural train, five-minute neighbourhood, blue and green neighbourhood, CO2 friendly neighbourhood and intelligent grid (Nordhavnen, accessed 2015). If the focus is on the energy houses, the usage of  thermal insulation and digital devices to control the  to get an energy efficient houses and improve the quality of the existing building.

Developers argue that if the project really succeed, the strategies and planning created might be applied throughout the city in order to solve different urban issues that exist or may further appear. The goal is to spread the sustainable approach all over the world to benefit diverse hoods with solution applied in Nordhavn. Thus, an enactment of Nordhavn is observed : the environmental enactment, which furthermore, might engage different counties to build low energy buildings towards CO2 neutral. Therefore,  Nordhavn has been reconfigured by a repair of the junction in the city. See the current area and the visionary project below.


This transformation can impact in the social, geographical and environmental policy of the Nordhavn area. In this case, the system can favour engineers and architects by supporting them in the development of the projects – by making it safe and with a higher quality, rather than going for the simplest building material component, which mean the collaboration between actors within the arena. This will also favour the citizens which will get the possibility to live and work within a high quality indoor space. While, thermal insulation companies can get their bid in the market. Therefore, energy efficient houses might transform the infrastructure and practices of the urban fabric of Nordhavn and reconfigure the space among navigational actions and transition mediators. The navigational actions might break the junction towards a change, while mediators are shaped by the junction to act across the urban fabric. The only consideration is that the function can change over the years, and new solution may be created, in other words, redefine the boundaries of the system, what is the ambiguity of AoD.

Overall, the main goal is to have a holistic focus to explain the junction and sustainability approach of the project – collaboration between different systems and practices (social, environmental and economical) as a whole and not separately. The social aspect is related to the liveability, commitment, and users benefit provided by the project, which affects environmentally the area of Nordhavn by creating low energy buildings. While, economically, the whole area will be based on shared economy , in space, technology and energy. Concluding, junction, navigations, and mediators explain the transition processes in the urban fabric of Copenhagen , whereas AoD supports the understanding of how actors navigate and performance towards a sustainable transition.


DAC. (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2015, from

Jensen, J. S., Lauridsen, E. H., Fratini, C. F., & Hoffmann, B. (2015). Harbour bathing and the urban transition of water in Copenhagen: junctions, mediators, and urban navigations. Environment and Planning A, 47(3), 554-570.

Jørgensen, U. (2012). Mapping and navigating transitions—The multi-level perspective compared with arenas of development. Research Policy, 41(6), 996-1010.

Nordhavnen. (n.d.). Nordhavn. Retrieved April 25, 2015, from Nordhavn:

Pineda, A. F., & Jørgensen, U. (2015). Creating Copenhagen´s Mero – on the role of protected spaces in arenas of development . Copenhagen.

Späth, P., & Rohracher, H. (2014). Conflicting strategies towards sustainable heating at an urban junction of heat infrastructure and building standards.Energy Policy.

Tækker, C. (2014, December 14). DTU. Retrieved April 26, 2015, from DTU:

The objective of this text is to analyse the case study of Nordhavn with Arenas of Development lenses, as part of an elective course, from the Master of Sustainable Design – Aalborg University Copenhagen.