Current prioritization within EU funding sees technical requirements for sustainable buildings moving technologies closer to people’s everyday lives, thereby increasing the need for interdisciplinary research, and placing occupant engagement high on the research agenda. This is not always reflected in building research. Results are often black boxed, and occupants are offered few opportunities for participation in design and development processes. The paper considers the unintended consequences of black boxing buildings. A black box is a complex system or object which is viewed in terms of its inputs and outputs, but where knowledge of the internal workings is not required. Using an experienced-based analysis from a social science perspective, we go back and consider the controversies around black boxing the processes and results in three Norwegian building research projects. In the conclusion, we propose that some research projects should remain unboxed, making complexity visible and allowing more focus on the challenges faced by occupants. Not taking time to ask and to learn from those who will use new technical solutions hinders the design process and limits a building’s chances of achieving its sustainable potential. Designing successful building solutions requires collaboration between disciplines and occupants, encouraging an alliance between people, technology, and buildings.
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