Experiences and attitudes of users as a basis for the development of sustainable housing concepts with high social acceptance

The aim of this project was to a) analyse current experiences of users of ecologically innovative residential buildings ("passive houses", solar houses, etc.) in Austria, b) to evaluate innovative housing concepts in focus groups, and c) to create a model for the continuous participation of users in the innovation process.

Content Description




This research project investigates the situation of users of green buildings, their attitudes and behaviour patterns and the specific experiences which come with living in such buildings. The results of the study are a social scientific contribution to the development of sustainable building concepts within the "Building of the Future" programme of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology.

With this aim, the question of "user experiences" was approached from three different perspectives:

  1. "Post-occupancy evaluation", based on an Austria-wide survey of the experiences and attitudes of 350 users of green buildings.
  2. Two innovative residential building concepts which are part of the "Building of the Future" programme were subject to an evaluation by experienced users in focus group discussions.
  3. These two research steps formed the basis for the development of a "participation model", showing practical possibilities for the active participation of users in different phases of the development, planning and realisation of sustainable building concepts in the future.

Post-occupancy evaluation results

From a technical point of view, building activities over the last ten years have been fairly compatible with the principles of green building. Unfortunately, the tendency towards bigger flats and houses, sub-urbanisation and, consequently, an increase in land use reduce these advantages (rebound effects). Even for residents of green buildings, who can be regarded as typical innovators and early adopters, the decision to move to a new flat or house is based on traditional motives such as the desire for more space to live in, mainly because the family situation changes, rather than ecological ones. Ecological motives are much less important for tenants than for owners of flats or houses. After their decision to build or buy a house, the latter group does take serious account of ecological questions. If single-family houses, large blocks of flats developed by building societies, and community projects with small groups of people jointly developing their own housing project are compared, the differences in the perception of the general dwelling situation are remarkable.

The highest level of satisfaction with living conditions is articulated by single-family house occupants; participants of group-dwelling-projects are less content, and the lowest level of contentment, partly due to technical problems, is expressed by the tenants of large buildings. The prospective users of group project or single-family buildings often have extensive possibilities for participation during the planning period, which the prospective tenants of large sized buildings do not have. Through having to deal with the technological questions of green buildings, users often undergo learning processes that result in stronger support for innovative technologies and an adequate understanding of the technical equipment of the house and how to use it.

Exemplary participation of users

The members of the focus group discussions were, without exception, users with long term experience of ecological dwelling and an interest in "green buildings". Their contributions to the discussion referred to the building concepts in general as well as to specific aspects and possible details of construction according to their personal experiences. The groups stated unanimously that the chance to participate is very important - especially in the context of innovative building concepts. It can be seen as an essential precondition for the knowledgeable and appropriate handling of the building and its technical equipment.

Participation model

The building concepts selected for the "impulse programme" should not only be analysed by research projects, but also realised and inhabited. For this reason, the proposal for user participation comprises four phases:

  1. research and development,
  2. planning,
  3. construction and
  4. use of the buildings.

The application of the model requires, for each phase, answers to the following questions: which topics are appropriate for a participation process? Which methods lead to reliable results? And finally, which groups of users should be integrated? It can be assumed that, as a rule, only the participation of experienced user groups is appropriate for the early phases of development. Approaching the point of realisation, it becomes increasingly reasonable to include prospective users in the planning process. Both forms of participation should support the social acceptance and establishment of innovative building concepts.

Project Partners

Project manager: Mag. Dr. Michael Ornetzeder, Zentrum für soziale Innovation (ZSI)
MitarbeiterInnen: Mag. Irene Schwarz, Mag. Bernd Kumpfmüller
Zentrum für soziale Innovation (ZSI)

DI Mag. Harald Rohracher
Interuniversitäres Forschungszentrum für Technik, Arbeit und Kultur (IFF/IFZ)


Michael Ornetzeder
Zentrum für soziale Innovation
Koppstraße 116/11
A 1160 Wien
Tel. +43 (0)1 49 50 442-54
Fax +43 (0)1 49 50 442-40
E-Mail: ornetzeder.zsi@mail.boku.ac.at