Translating the invisible: Governing underground utilities in the Amsterdam airport Schiphol terminal project

Erwin Biersteker*, Joop Koppenjan, Alfons van Marrewijk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
35 Downloads (Pure)


Governing material conditions—including physical, material subjects such as machines, build constructions, construction materials, and subsoils—is a crucial challenge within projects and is underrepresented in project governance theory. To clarify the relationship between project governance and materiality, we draw on translation theory, which is essentially about the reinterpretation, appropriation, and representation of interests related to materials. This paper studies the challenges of governing the underground during the construction of the new terminal at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. The findings show that, during the project life cycle, the translation of the underground by project actors hampered the necessary relocation of utilities in this project. This eventually resulted in delays and unforeseen costs. This translation is explained by a combination of the governance of the project, strategic interactions of project actors, and the characteristics and context of the material conditions. We contribute to project governance studies by demonstrating the usefulness of translation theory to better understand the mechanisms at play in governing underrepresented material conditions in infrastructure projects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)581-593
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Project Management
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Infrastructure
  • Project governance
  • Risks
  • Translation process
  • Underground
  • Utilities


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