TERRITORIAL FRAGILITIES Department of Architecture and Urban Studies | Department of Excellence 2018-2022


HERE the full program of the symposium "A Research Agenda on Territorial Fragilities"

March 26, 2019, Auditorium via Pascoli 53, Politecnico di Milano


DAStU Department of Excellence

DAStU Department of Excellence on the issue of "territorial fragilities"

DAStU is one of 180 Italian departments selected and financed by the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research (MIUR) for the period 2018-2022 as part of the “Departments of Excellence” initiative (L. 232/2016). It is an innovative government initiative that awards departments which excel in the quality of their research and finances specific development projects.


In the five-year period 2018-2022, the Department of Architecture and Urban Studies will focus its efforts on exploring the complex and multifaceted processes of the weakening of the relationship between space and society, looking at it in terms of exposure to multiple and diverse risk factors: environmental, social, economic, political and institutional.

At the heart of the project is the establishment of a permanent Laboratory staffed by 9 PhD students, 15 temporary research fellows and 7 new researchers recruited with government project resources to focus on the issue of territorial fragility along with many other colleagues who, as part of various research groups, are already working daily on the many variations of the issue.

The permanent Laboratory will promote transdisciplinary research and design through calls for competition at European, national and local level, accredited scientific output, support for the development of Departmental applied research Laboratories, a programme of special seminars and events which will start in 2019, and the promotion of inward and outward exchanges for professors and researchers and with centres and organisations of excellence across Europe.

The Department aims to become an important hub within an international network of researchers and institutions working on the many variations of territorial fragility. The ultimate goal is to establish a transdisciplinary Research Centre of Excellence on "territorial fragilities" which will become a permanent point of reference both in the academic and research world and among institutions and other players involved in “antifragility” policies and projects.


Broadly speaking fragility is the predisposition of an object or situation to radically change its state following unexpected, accidental events. It can be understood in (at least) three ways.

Firstly, fragility is a characteristic of the object or situation and is understood as an original state which, if natural, may or may not be compatible with human action and, if artificial, may be the result of a planned action, whether conscious or not.

Secondly, the state of fragility is a state that arises as the result of a process of becoming distanced from a solid state of equilibrium, which leads to the emergence of a state of degradation.

Finally, the state of fragility may result from an interruption to an evolutionary process of consolidation, which reduces the effectiveness of transformations that are underway, but which have not yet reached a state of equilibrium. Another fragility also contributes to this: transformation systems (plans, projects, regulations, policies).

The Department’s project aims to interpret and treat territorial fragility according to these different interpretations, having recognised the importance of this issue both to our country and globally.


In addition to the scientific work, there is significant organisational and managerial effort behind the launch of this project, which we believe is a unique opportunity to create innovation in how professors, researchers and technical administrative staff work together. The project is managed and developed by a task force specially created to support the Scientific Director, Prof. Alessandro Balducci, Director, Dr Gloria Paoluzzi, and Department Director, Prof. Gabriele Pasqui.

The task force is comprised of:

teaching staff: Paolo Beria, Marco Bovati, Simona Chiodo, Emilia Corradi, Francesco Curci, Valeria Fedeli, Scira Menoni, Daniele Villa;

technical administrative staff from the Department’s research office and communication office: Giulia Amadasi, Laura Di Maria, Liana Frola.

We have invited nationally and internationally renowned experts to be part of the project’s Scientific Committee to support the work that will be done over the next few years. In 2018 we selected and recruited new colleagues with government project resources who will be responsible for sustaining the theoretical research and field work supported by the project.

We have identified 15 lines of research and formed 15 reference committees around them with the aim of developing transdisciplinary research activities on the issue of territorial fragilities.

DASTU’s experimental Laboratories have started specific planning work for the Project “of Excellence” which will see them involved in managing new tools, services and resources to support the research.

International Scientific Committee

  • Sabrina Lucatelli | Committee Technical Coordinator for "Inner areas" at the Department for Cohesion Policy at the Presidenza del Consiglio dei Ministri (Prime Minister’s Office)
  • Roberto Marino | Department Head "Casa Italia" at the Presidenza del Consiglio dei Ministri (Prime Minister’s Office)
  • Gianfranco Viesti | Full Professor of Applied Economics at the University of Bari
  • Aldo Bonomi | Founder of the AASTER Consortium (Territory Development Agents) and promotor of "Territorial Agreements for Development"
  • Andrew Copus | The James Hutton Institute
  • Thilo Lang | Director of the Department for European regional geography at the Institute for the Regional Geography of Lipsia (Leibniz-Institut für Länderkunde, Germany)
  • Paola Viganò | Full Professor of Urban Theory e Urban Design at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and at Università IUAV di Venezia
  • Mauro Dolce | Civil Protection Department Presidenza del Consiglio dei Ministri (Prime Minister’s Office)


The project will be rolled out over five years during which the Department will undertake to meet a series of objectives, which will be measured through specific indicators designed to monitor and verify the effectiveness of the work.


The timeline is the Roadmap we have given ourselves to pursue a series of general project objectives, taking advantage of the skills and distinguishing features of our Department:

A transdisciplinary project: the interdisciplinary and thematic nature of DAStU, and its location within a polytechnic university where other departments have complementary skills in the subject area are the starting points for building a research programme that can effectively integrate the geographical-environmental and socio-economic aspects of territorial fragilities. The programme’s research activities will therefore consider issues relating to policies and projects on the re-use, recycling and regeneration of historical and cultural heritage, architecture, landscape and the built environment, as well as actions to reduce social and territorial inequalities between different parts of the country and different parts of urbanised areas.

A strong design approach: the study, description and mapping of the phenomena and processes of territorial fragility will be aimed at producing designs (for architecture, internal spaces, cities and countryside) and offering suggestions, indications and guidelines for the design and implementation of public programmes and policies. The ambition is to carry out field experiments, with reference also to international contexts, to increase resilience and reduce risks from an action perspective that can identify good practices, and to propose guidelines to strengthen “anti-fragile” territories.

Strong international opening: Territorial fragility, being a global challenge, manifests in different ways in different parts of the planet: areas that are experiencing rapid urbanisation in Africa and in the Global South in general, dynamic environments in the Far East, Asia Minor and the Indian subcontinent, and territories “in crisis” in North America and Europe. We are nominating ourselves to become an important hub within an international network of researchers and institutions working on the many variations of territorial fragility. For this reason, the Department is strengthening exchange relationships with other players researching these issues.

Place-based approach and social impact: The issue of fragility will be tackled from the territories, and from the way in which natural phenomena (also relating to earthquake and hydrogeological risks), settlement dynamics and social processes interact within them. The objective is to interact operationally with demands from public bodies, companies and players in the third sector and populations, and to develop activities consistent with a “third mission” designed to engage the public. It pays close attention to the social impact (on people, social groups, institutions, as well as landscapes and the built environment) of our work. That’s why we undertake to not only publicly announce the results of our work, but also to create opportunities for broad, accurate dialogue, and not just within the academic world, with the aim of helping to build operational responses to the demands of contemporary society.


2018 has been dedicated, in particular, to creating all the conditions necessary to launch the project:

We formed a taskforce which has guided the project’s launch operations and produced an action plan from discussions in held in numerous focused meetings with Department members

We mapped the current activities of DAStU professors/researchers, consistent with the research project, identifying consolidated expertise and research possibilities, active groups and laboratories or research groups being set up

We explored similar experiences being implemented abroad, with the aim of becoming part of a network with other centres of excellence and international and national professors and other researchers working on the frontline of tackling territorial fragilities

We formed an international scientific Committee, with the aim of helping us with the key parts of the project

We defined 15 priority lines of research and established 15 interdisciplinary reference committees, each of which has identified and discussed strategic guidelines for research over the next four years

We prepared and launched selection procedures and work coordination for 15 temporary research fellows who will work together from different perspectives on the issue of territorial fragilities;

We planned and launched communication activities for work that is underway, through social media and institutional channels, designed a dedicated project website and launched a series of wide-ranging communication and information activities.

2019 will start with:

The launch of research activities by the 15 temporary research fellows selected between the end of 2018 and the start of 2019

The preparation of an international convention planned for February/March 2019


This page provides the first information available on the project, but further information will be published soon on the new DASTU website and on the dedicated project website, both of which are currently under construction and will be live from January 2019.

The site will provide information on the main events and news, build up a depository of information materials and videos about the project, information on opportunities to collaborate on the project, aimed at potential new researchers and anyone interested in contributing to the project and sharing goals and research topics.


Created with images by George Potter - "463 Steps" • Ben Dumond - "untitled image" • Ryoji Iwata - "cross" • Delaney Turner - "Bogota"

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