The DAStU is one of the 180 Italian departments selected and funded by the Ministry of University and Research (MIUR) for 2018-2022 as part of the Departments of Excellence initiative (Law no. 232/2016). This is an innovative ministerial measure that rewards departments that stand out due to the quality of the research they produce by funding specific development projects.

Over the five-year period spanning 2018-2022, the Department of Architecture and Urban Studies will devote its efforts to exploring the many and complex processes of fragilisation of the space-society relationship, with particular reference to Italy and Europe, considering it in terms of exposure to an array of different risk factors: environmental, social, economic, political and institutional.

At the heart of the project is the establishment of a permanent Laboratory staffed by 12 PhD students, 16 research fellows and 7 new researchers recruited with the resources provided by the ministerial project, all dedicated to the issue of territorial fragility, together with the many colleagues who, in their various research groups, are already working on the various facets of the topic on a daily basis.

The permanent Laboratory promotes research and design activities of a transdisciplinary nature, including through applications for competitive tenders at the European, national and local levels, accredited scientific production, support for the development of the Department’s applied research Laboratories, a programme of seminars and special events launched in 2019, and the promotion of incoming and outgoing exchanges for professors and researchers and with centres and institutions of excellence all across Europe.


Returning to the issue of territorial fragilities is both wholly necessary and an excellent opportunity.

Fragile territories are home to extraordinary human, landscape, cultural and environmental resources, and if supported by new projects and place-based policies, they can offer economic and social benefits for all.

There are wellsprings of resources in urban peripheries, where associative networks can provide a significant advantage for real urban regeneration projects; in mountain areas, which can no longer be seen as merely tourist destinations or reserves of water, energy and environmental resources; in the countless villages of the oft-forgotten parts of Italy, the so-called ‘Italia minore’, as demonstrated by the National Strategy for Inner Areas, which is drawing up possible ways to break out of their trajectories of decline and depopulation.


The Department aims to become an important hub in an international network of researchers and institutions working on the many and varied facets of territorial fragility. The ultimate goal is to establish a transdisciplinary Research Centre of Excellence on territorial fragilities that can become a permanent reference point both in the world of academia and research, and amongst the institutions and other actors involved in the “anti-fragile” policies and projects being developed.

The strategic goal is broken down into a number of specific objectives.

A TRANSDISCIPLINARY PROJECT. The interdisciplinary and issue-focused nature of the DAStU, as well as its position within a polytechnic university in which other departments can offer complementary expertise on the subject, are the starting points for building a research programme capable of effectively integrating the geographical/environmental and socio-economic dimensions of territorial fragilities.

The programme’s research activities cover aspects related to policies and projects for the reuse, recycling and regeneration of the historical, cultural, architectural, landscape and built environment heritage, but also the actions required to reduce the social and territorial disparities and inequalities between different areas of the country as well as between different portions of urbanised areas.

A STRONGLY DESIGN-ORIENTED APPROACH. The investigation, description and mapping of the phenomena and processes of territorial fragility are oriented towards designing projects (related to architecture, interior spaces, cities and landscapes) and offering suggestions, indications and guidelines for the design and implementation of programmes and public policies.

The ambition is to conduct experiments in the field, including with reference to international contexts, in order to increase resilience and reduce risks with an action perspective capable of identifying best practices and proposing “anti-fragile” guidelines geared towards strengthening these territories.

EXTENSIVE OPENNESS TO THE INTERNATIONAL SITUATION. Territorial fragility, as a global challenge, appears in different forms in the various parts of our planet: the areas undergoing rapid urbanisation in Africa and, more generally, in the Global South; the dynamic contexts of the Far East, Asia Minor and the Indian subcontinent; and the territories “in crisis” seen in North America and Europe.

We would like to become an important hub in an international network of researchers and institutions working on the many and varied facets of territorial fragility. As such, the Department is consolidating exchange relationships with other actors involved in research into these issues.

A PLACE-BASED APPROACH AND SOCIAL IMPACT. The issue of fragility is to be tackled starting from the territories, and the way in which natural phenomena (including those linked to seismic and hydrogeological risk conditions), settlement dynamics and social processes interact within them. The aim is to interact operationally with the emerging demands of public bodies, companies and actors in the non-profit sector, and local populations, as well as to develop activities consistent with a “third mission” designed with a view to public engagement. A perspective that is attentive to the social impact involved (on people, social groups and institutions, but also landscapes and the built environment) in our activities.

That is why we are committed to not only providing a public account of the results of the work we do, but also creating opportunities for inclusionary, insightful dialogue that casts a wide net rather than limiting itself to the academic world, with the aim of helping to put together functional responses to the questions faced by society toda


In 2018, the DAStU activated 16 three-year research grants for different disciplinary areas to create a group of qualified and highly motivated young researchers to work on the programme, including with a synergistic and integrated approach.
These research lines are the result of a participatory process at the departmental level which led to the selection of thematic priorities and the establishment of 16 steering committees aimed at supporting the fellows’ research paths. 

The themes and priorities in question were publicly presented and discussed during the conference entitled “A research agenda on territorial fragilities” (March 2019).
Highly qualified educational activities were put in place around these themes starting in 2019.

1 StraDe – Strengths and weaknesses of the economic and territorial development strategies for depressed areas. The Italian case within the European context

Using the debate about place-based development and so-called “places that don’t matter” as a springboard, the research aims to explore the economic and territorial development policies that have been adopted in Europe over the last 15-20 years, as well as their effects on depressed areas. Over this period, policies have focused on the more prosperous and dynamic areas, with the intention that they drive growth in disadvantaged areas; instead, these areas were only further weakened. What’s more, the increase of territorial disparities in Western countries seems to have resulted in an impact on their social and cultural orientation, thus contributing to the reconfiguration of the socio-territorial basis of the political consensus at country level (e.g. Brexit) and, more broadly, the emergent “nationalist-populist” phenomenon.

Keywords: places that don’t matter, economic development, territorial inequalities

2 ExSeg – Inequalities and dynamics of exclusion and socio-spatial segregation. Dynamics of socio-spatial segregation between school, housing and services in vulnerable areas

Using the debate about place-based development and so-called “places that don’t matter” as a springboard, the research aims to explore the economic and territorial development policies that have been adopted in Europe over the last 15-20 years, as well as their effects on depressed areas. Over this period, policies have focused on the more prosperous and dynamic areas, with the intention that they drive growth in disadvantaged areas; instead, these areas were only further weakened. What’s more, the increase of territorial disparities in Western countries seems to have resulted in an impact on their social and cultural orientation, thus contributing to the reconfiguration of the socio-territorial basis of the political consensus at country level (e.g. Brexit) and, more broadly, the emergent “nationalist-populist” phenomenon.

Keywords: spatial segregation, schools, housing, social inequalities

3 ReScale – Multiscalar project for resilient cities and regions. Guidance for anticipating critical processes and hazards and for enhancing resilience

Multiscalar design methodologies considering the different relationships between urban and larger scales in different contexts. The latter include central metropolitan areas, medium-sized cities, inner peripheries in mountain areas, islands, and small historic hamlets. In all cases, the common aspect is their exposure and vulnerability to natural hazards and the consequences of climate change. Understanding the different contexts and risks from a project-oriented perspective aims to reinforce/create more resilient cities and territories.

Keywords: natural hazards, climate change, resilience

4 ShrinkIT – The fragility of Italian territories characterised by socio-demographic shrinkage and/or with a surplus of built and infrastructural assets

Focus on the dimensions of fragility in those areas marked, on the one hand, by “contraction” dynamics relating to their populations – even temporary ones –, economic activities and material/immaterial flows; and, on the other hand, in areas with an increasing lack of care and maintenance, and/or with processes of abandonment of significant segments of their public and private built heritage (buildings, infrastructures, monuments, etc.). A heritage that may appear surplus to requirements – in part due to past dynamics of overproduction – or less and less habitable, due to its urban-architectural connotations, as well as the contexts in which it is inserted.

Keywords: urban depopulation, recession, built heritage

5 ProLand – Landscape mapping, policies and projects for the development and regeneration of fragile territories. DesignProject as an act ofa knowledge

Fragile territories are the result of environmental, economic and social problems produced by natural disasters, lack of maintenance of the territories, buildings and infrastructure, and the non-integration of policies, projects and knowledge.
Water, soil, vegetation, animals, energy and the climate are all central factors in the landscape project as considered in its many forms for the ability to read and build complex systems of relationships on the urban, territorial and close-up scale of those who live in open spaces.
The project themes are the redesign of infrastructural, agroecological and natural systems (ecological, fruitive, hydraulic connections), the regeneration of landscapes, built heritage and the design of living spaces.

Keywords: landscape, agroecological systems, planning

6 BioBuild – Bioclimatic strategies for sustainable regeneration of residential buildings and the environment

The research explores a conception of architectural design as the prediction of the processes that regulate the relationships between buildings, the built environment and people/communities; the evaluation of the bioclimatic behaviour of the urban structure with reference to the morphological, typological and technological characters of the built environment; the evaluation of the potential to save water and to increase resilience, security, safety and comfort; and refurbishment and adaptive retrofitting using multiscalar, performance-based evaluation methods for local analysis. Improvement of maintenance processes in order to involve the final users in both design and self-building activities, including through the collection and reuse of materials and components (upcycling).

Keywords: sustainability, bioclimatic design approach, built environment

7 WelPhy – The material legacy of welfare: spaces, processes and policies

The material legacy of welfare today consists of a variety of buildings and spaces that intersect, as well as conditions of abandonment, disposal and underuse, and a variety of forms of management, experience and use. This legacy is taken as a privileged area of research because of its potential resonance with the urban contexts in which it is located, as well as because of the current conditions that characterise it, which are often inadequate in comparison with the structural changes taking place in cities and territories. The research aims to produce a complex mapping of spaces, uses, processes, policies, and to deal with themes and tools related to the project of transforming space and forms of use at different scales in relation to the future design of policies (urban, social, housing, training) which, in various ways, currently participate in the reshaping of welfare services.

Keywords: material legacy of welfare systems, disposal, use practices

8 SafeHer – Conceptual and operational models for the safeguarding and design of fragile heritage and territories. Strategies of research and intervention from a transnational perspective

Over the course of the 20th century, our heritage has been divided across an increasingly extensive range of situations, products, and even short timeframes. It is a resource and, at the same time, a material document. This dual dimension connects artefacts and the territories in which they are situated with their cultural values and the physical traces of their production, the means and objects of which have often radically changed over time. A systematically diachronic and historical dimension characterises the field of safeguarding, lending the facts observed a depth that would otherwise be nigh imperceptible. The destiny of heritage – between abandonment and pressure – is connected to the management of the territory, but at the same time, the former can guide the latter and contribute with its vocations in order to outline a different model of development.
The research fellow will develop these issues as they relate to specific territorial areas (landscapes and artefacts in mountainous, rural, periurban, etc. areas) and at different project scales, in reference to the research experiments also carried out within the DAStU, but taking a broader cultural and linguistic framework as their point of reference. They will operate under the supervision of the CoR, in collaboration with the other colleagues funded by the “DAStU – Department of Excellence” programme. They will follow and promote exchanges and collaborations with other universities, research institutions and local authorities – both Italian and foreign – and will collaborate in the organisation of conferences and publications, as well as participation in calls in order to raise funds to extend and continue the research.

Keywords: heritage, alpine landscape, safeguarding

9 SlowHer – Cultural regeneration of fragile areas via slow, lightweight infrastructures. Tangible and intangible cultural heritage as a driver for boosting fragile and inner areas

In Italy, there is a new opportunity for green infrastructure aimed at supporting the territorial regeneration of the most vulnerable areas of the country, namely the network of cycle paths and routes being developed by MIT and MIBACT (2016). The VENTO cycle tourism path, proposed by the Politecnico di Milano, is part of this initiative and represents a challenging framework through which to establish a new deal for the regeneration of fragile and inner areas in terms of their cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible.
Within this context, and with reference to an integrated and interdisciplinary methodological framework, the research question is based on three issues: i) what kinds of cultural and environmental assets are located along the tourist cycle routes? (Knowledge); ii) what cultural, environmental, economic and social values are expressed by the different stakeholders? What are the regeneration goals and how can they be identified and measured? (Evaluation); iii) what sorts of functions, and for whom, can be designed in line with the areas’ vocation for tourism and the system of values emerging by different reference contexts, and with the aim of promoting an anti-fragile and long-term territorial regeneration at the scale of the route? What kinds of management strategies can be implemented? Who are the stakeholders who will be involved and what role can participation play? (Strategy/Management) The territory through which VENTO runs will be the field of research experimentation.

Keywords: cycle routes, slow tourism lines, inner areas

10 MegaHer – Mega events, paradigm change and urban heritage. Historical roots, narratives, strategies and interventions

In Italian and European cities, the reinterpretation and transformation of the use of cultural and urban heritage generate opportunities, but they also entail risks. These risks are not always perceptible. This research project analyses if and how mega-events and changes in interpretative or design paradigms related to urban heritage can enhance, but also compromise, the heritage itself. By studying one or more cases, the research combines the historical deconstruction of the public imagination and public narratives with the analysis of projects and the modification of the built heritage, so as to explore the theme of “territorial fragility” as a problem. UNESCO applications, the implementation of mega-events and other projects may all constitute relevant cases, in a longitudinal and comparative perspective.

Keywords: mega-events, heritage, narratives

11 MapFrag – Mapping Fragile Landscapes. Tools and Techniques for the Analysis and Representation of Territorial Fragilities

The research project concerns the development of techniques for mapping fragile landscapes, which can take different forms in relation to the various elements under consideration, be they internal or generated by conditions from the surrounding context. In particular, the research includes also elements of minor documentary interest, marginal places, intangible components that are difficult to identify, make visible and maintain, specific landscapes related to physical, environmental and social factors, the ephemeral environmental characteristics of the places, as generated by changing climate conditions or by uses, to also be considered with a focus on opportunities for improvement/promotion, with a view to their territorial development with particular attention on tourism.
The mapping work is based on experimentation with techniques applied to concrete case studies which take into account digital and innovative procedures integrated with manual and traditional techniques. In particular, the processing of mapping techniques will take into account the methodologies for the acquisition of data from different origins and available through digital networks and communities, with particular attention to the interaction between user and landscape, to the provision of geo-referenced services through personal communication devices (tablets and smartphones), and to the various possible interfaces (traditional and digital) to be provided to end users.

Keywords: mapping techniques, methodologies, marginal areas

12 ForDwell – Form, Use and Space for Contemporary Dwellings. New solutions for new households

The theme of the research is focused on new residential solutions and/or the transformation of the existing building stock, in response to profound socioeconomic/demographic changes (transformation of the forms of family and the labour market, migration, aging populations, etc.) and the critical issues they trigger (temporary and/or shared housing, inadequacy of spatial solutions, lack of targeted services for people in need, huge energy expenditure, poor affordability, etc.). These issues are now only further compounding due to a slowdown in new construction and the deterioration of the existing housing stock.
The project aims to interpret these issues and provide answers by critically comparing them with regulations from a sustainability perspective, especially in fragile urban areas.

Keywords: housing stock, architecture project and design, socio-demographic change

13 PeriFrag – Urban and metropolitan peripheries in fragile territories. Mapping, projects and policies between the architectural, urban and social dimensions

The research aims to characterise and map out forms of spatial and social fragility in the contexts of urban and metropolitan peripheries in Italy, Europe and possibly also the urban contexts of Global South.
One of its key objectives is to contribute to identifying the dynamics and processes of change of the condition of periphery in urban contexts, including through the construction of methodologies and experiments in mapping the contexts under examination, with particular attention to the identification of integrated intervention tools (in terms of architectural and urban projects, government tools and public policies) for the material and social regeneration of peripheral contexts.

Keywords: urban regeneration, periphery, adaptive reuse

14 FrAM – Mobility and Accessibility to deal with territorial fragilities

The research project aims to study territorial fragilities, starting from disparities in access to urban services and opportunities, and examining the relationship between mobility and accessibility. The material conditions of mobility can offer an important contribution to understanding and regulating disparities in access to opportunities, as a function of both the context (infrastructural and transportation facilities, land use, services and supplies, etc.) and the skills and resources of the individual (the capacities required to make use of the service as against each individual’s mobility plans, which require them to make use of the service).
Focusing on the relationship between mobility (as a socio-spatio-temporal practice) and accessibility (as a prerequisite for the individual’s ability to participate in valued activities), the research aims to define the basic forms of accessibility in relation to the fundamental activities in which each individual needs to participate in order to be fully included in society. The research will also propose innovative mobility solutions to improve participation in activities by people afflicted by limited opportunities and disadvantaged mobility practices, ultimately suggesting possible interventions on transportation systems geared towards selectively enhancing accessibility.
Operatively speaking, the research will consider both ‘traditional’ accessibility measures and ‘alternative ones’, based on a multidimensional approach (including land-use, transportational, temporal and individual components) applied at different scales (from the national scale to a more local one).

Keywords: mobility, accessibility, inequalities

15 ReArch – Architectural Recycling and Re-Use. Analytical Methodologies and Design Strategies in Fragile Urban Fabrics and Landscapes

The research provides for the development of analytical methodologies concerning urban fabrics and landscapes characterised by processes of under-use, abandonment, and physical and environmental deterioration in selected case studies from geographical areas in Italy, Europe and worldwide.
With regard to the identified case studies, the research consists of developing design strategies based on the architectural recycling and reuse of buildings, artefacts, elements and components, open spaces and infrastructures, with the identification of integrated tools for intervention at different scales (in terms of architectural and urban projects, restoration and conservation) that comply with the requirements of environmental sustainability and territorial resilience.
Operatively speaking, the research will consider both ‘traditional’ accessibility measures and ‘alternative ones’, based on a multidimensional approach (including land-use, transportational, temporal and individual components) applied at different scales (from the national scale to a more local one).

Keywords: recycling, methodologies, architecture

16 ProPol – Coping with territorial fragilities, policies and strategies

The research aims to analyse the policies and programmes that address the issue of fragile territories in Italy, with a focus on the last twenty years. Starting from an analysis of the socio-environmental and territorial outcomes of certain national economic development programmes for fragile areas, the research evaluates their effectiveness and capacity to give a new direction to territories marked by strong path dependence phenomena. The research focuses in particular on marginal areas affected by polluting manufacturing activities in the past which are now caught between divestment, reclamation and receipt of national and supranational funds for energy and ecological transition (as a case study: Sardinia). These territories present multiple fragilities and more or less evident conflicts, in particular between environmental protection and employment. Whilst these conflicts seem to be more explicit at the local level, the issues that give rise to them require resolution through policies and programmes on a national and supranational scale, with the public taking a different role compared with the past in relation to major economic actors.

Keywords: policies, inner areas, conflicts


The timeline constitutes our roadmap for pursuing the general objectives of the project, making the most of the skills, expertise and unique features of our Department

2018 - Project launch

- We set up the task force, which led the project launch operations and produced a plan of action that was discussed in several specific meetings of the members of the Department.

- We mapped out the current activities of the DAStU’s professors/researchers that were in line with the research project, identifying long-standing expertise and research perspectives, active groups and laboratories, or research groups being established at the time.

- We carried out a survey of similar experiences abroad with the aim of networking with other national and international centres of excellence and professors, as well as with other researchers working to counteract territorial fragilities.

- We set up an International Scientific Committee to assist us with the most crucial steps of the project.

- We defined 16 priority lines of research and initiated the formation of 16 interdisciplinary reference committees, each of which discussed and identified strategic lines of research for the following four years.

- We prepared and initiated the procedures for selecting and coordinating the work of the 16 research fellows who will be called upon to work together - albeit from different perspectives - on the issue of territorial fragilities.

- We planned and launched the communication activities for the work underway through social media and institutional channels, designed a dedicated website for the project, and kicked off a series of wide-ranging communication and dissemination actions intended for a wide audience.

- We initiated the research activities of the 16 research fellows, asking them to also promote shared and transdisciplinary activities.

- We presented the ‘Project of Excellence’ award to the first three PhD students of the DAStU who started their research on the issues around territorial fragilities.

- We selected 9 themes and put out a call for applications for 9 PhD scholarships, initiating coordination between them, promoting transdoctoral activities and ensuring that their research activities are adequately monitored.

- We organised a public event to present the project: the study day entitled “A research agenda on territorial fragilities” on 26/03/2019, which was widely attended by people from both inside and outside the Department.

- We designed the new website dedicated to the research project and launched a communication plan for it.

- We systemised the existing infrastructure and equipment n the department and planned the new purchases to be made as part of the Experimental Laboratories System.

- We planned and organised the monitoring processes and tools for the project in order to keep track of the appropriate use of resources as against the achievement of the set objectives, with a particular focus on the growth of international publications on the issue and participation in competitive calls.

- We organised and promoted seminars and study days, on a variety of topics, often in collaboration with external parties and with the participation of members of the Advisory Board.

- We completed the process of hiring both fixed-term and permanent staff under the umbrella of the project funding.

- We continued to pursue the strategy of technologically upgrading the Department’s Experimental Laboratories System, kitting them out with advanced equipment for the development of research activities on fragile territories.

- We bolstered international and national high-impact publications, including from the point of view of supporting public policy and decision making.

- We built up a schedule of activities comprising over 20 initiatives for the discussion and dissemination of the results of the research, despite the constraints of the pandemic.

- We co-organised two important Study Days entitled “Bridging the gaps” (17-18 February) in collaboration with the Inequalities and Diversity Forum, which resulted in the development of more than 20 proposals aimed at reducing inequality in Italy, subsequently compiled in a book published by Il Mulino (due for release in 2021).

- We supported the burgeoning ‘National Network for Inner Areas’, promoted by PhD students and research fellows linked to the project, which brings together young academics across Italy who are actively engaged in this issue.

- We promoted the interdoctoral seminar ‘De-fragilizing Sulmona’, applied to the case study of one of the municipalities selected for the experimental implementation of the Casa Italia project, promoted by the Prime Minister’s Office.

- We strengthened relations with other research centres in order to improve the position of the issue of territorial fragility within the international debate, linking it to reflections on the new geographies of the European economy (Rodríguez-Pose, Ballas, McCann, and others).

- We participated in the digital edition of “Meet me tonight - The Researchers’ Night” (27-28 November) with FragilItaly Tour, a virtual tour through the places affected by territorial fragility in Italy.

- We promoted the mid-term seminar “How are we doing? Evidence and perspectives halfway down the line” (1 December) for a collective reflection based on the intermediate results of the research on the issue of Territorial Fragilities.

- We concluded the implementation of the project website by launching a blog that kickstarted the public debate on the topic of the relationship between territorial fragilities and the pandemic.

- We put together the first issue of a ‘Logbook’ for the project, due for release in 2021.