Prototyping transitional practices for the design of postindustrial infrastructures

The social context and the consumption and manufacturing landscapes are in fact changing, exposing some of the limitations that established industrial infrastructures and development approaches have for fulfilling new social demands. To ensure economic sustainability, equality and social progress, new infrastructural configurations and modeling methods need to be investigated.

In his research, Lorenzo Davoli explored what a new design practice can be like to possibly enable and curate the transition of existing industrial infrastructures towards configurations better able to serve postindustrial needs.

We don't live in an industrial economy anymore, but in a service and information one developing needs for flexibility and contextual sensitivity that accustomed infrastructural planning and design approaches, conceived in response to mass production and consumption, are unable to provide. Beside the several possibilities for lighter economy, sustainability, distributed manufacturing and organization that information and automation technologies potentially open up, the design of new systems and infrastructures continuously replicate patterns of scalability, centralization and reliance on physical assets typical of the industrial era. The permanence of these 'industrial habits' in the way we develop infrastructures, services and technologies today seems to be limiting our ability to address present issues and to be responsible for new forms of conflicts and discriminations.


"Complex postindustrial problems cannot be addressed internally by single companies, public institutions and communities alone, but requires systemic transformations. To achieve this purpose requires designers to shift from existing means and modes of 'industrial' design to the exploration of 'how to' configure qualitatively different value systems.  This means not only to conceive and implement alternative product and services better able to address present needs, but also to provide these alternative ways of making, sharing and apply technology with the proper foundations to prosper.  That is, to experiment and articulate ways to enable and curate change in the networks of industrial infrastructures and practices within which we operate and that inevitably influence and constrain, with their agencies, the scope and reach of our innovations" says Lorenzo Davoli.

Trans- involves the 'linking across and through' industrial networks but also their transformation and ability to contingently adapt to local situations and needs, 'transparently' supporting different people, business models, communities and practices.  Transtructures are flexible, replicable and adaptive to different contexts without the need of being re-invented every time.  Their design is therefore not really achievable through 'industrial' design approaches, which were developed to address the needs of industrial societies through criteria of scale and standardization.

Through a series of design experiments in the field of logistics and Telecommunication, Davoli experimented a series of tactics to possibly open up and render industrial infrastructures receptive and supportive to bottom up innovation. The purpose this experiments was to investigate what design practices and processes can be necessary to reconfigure existing industrial infrastructures toward more locally adaptive and citizen-centered forms and functions, better able to serve distributed small-scale manufacturing and service economies.

antennaLorenzo Davoli's research provides both a vision and a direction where to explore possibilities for transformation and an approach to achieve them.  As Davoli argues, "in today's postindustrial context 'Transtructures', can offer companies and public institutions with a possible development strategy and a model to guide their decision making and attune new infrastructural arrangements and business models.  In particular they offer a possible approach and a practice to allow experts and stakeholders from different fields and disciplines to explore qualitatively different market configurations and technological applications:

By prototyping them, and opening up the design process to citizens and publics, companies and institutions can collaboratively explore how to achieve preferable scenarios and reconfigure their systems and interactions accordingly.

"This is probably not going to be like exactly predicting the future but at least it could be a way to 'feel around the corner', anticipating systemic risks and consequences associated to certain solutions instead of others.  By materializing present and future infrastructural configurations, making them presents and experienceable, possibilities and controversies can be discussed, providing the necessary material to articulate present infrastructural issues and collectively explore alternative futures", says Lorenzo Davoli.

Lorenzo Davoli has carried out his doctoral level studies at the Umeå Institute of Design, Umeå University.


This thesis has been published digitally:


For more information, please contact:

BW Lorenzo DavoliLorenzo Davoli, Umeå Institute of Design, Umeå University


About the dissertation defense:

On Thursday 7th of April, Lorenzo Davoli, defends his dissertation entitled "Transtrucutures: Prototyping transitional practices for the design of postindustrial infrastructures"

The defense will take place at 13:00 in the Auditorium of the Umeå Institute of Design, Umeå University, in Östra Strandgatan 30.

The faculty opponent is Professor Cameron Tonkinwise, Director of Design Studies at the School of Design of Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA.


Lorenzo Davoli has obtained is Bachelor and Master in Design at the Politecnico of Milan, Italy where he developed his MSc within the Design Innovation for Sustainability research group.  After his studies he had the opportunity to work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a research assistant for the Vehicle Design Summit and collaborating with the Senseable City Lab "Trash Track" Project.  Before joining the Umeå Institute of Design he was an intern with the Mobility and Energy Efficiency Team at the Rocky Mountain Institute in Boulder Colorado.