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Professor Agatino Rizzo: ‘I believe that interdisciplinary collaboration is a potent catalyst for innovation’

As sustainability becomes an increasingly urgent imperative, architects and planners are poised to assume a pivotal position in guiding this transformation, says the Professor in urban planning.
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What does your professorship mean? 

‘It is about dealing with socio-economic transformation of society from the point of view of physical and spatial planning. For example, to answer questions related to impacts of the green transition, digitalization, and new forms of participation for small, medium and large cities. 

As countries grapple with the need to steer the transition towards sustainable societies, my work is to unravel the ways in which this transition impacts the physical and spatial fabric of our cities. This entails assessing how renewable energy integration, circular economy principles, and eco-friendly infrastructure influence urban planning, thereby shaping the urban environment for the better. 

This theme involves a multifaceted exploration of how our built environment evolves in response to sweeping changes in the economic and societal landscape. By delving into the complexities of this transformation, my aim is to contribute to the developing of new knowledge to replan and repairour cities.’ 

What brought you to Aalto? 

‘I am interested in the possibility to work in an open, positive, and inclusive international environment, and to develop further collaborations with Nordic and other European universities. The allure of working within such an environment offered the prospect of not only contributing my expertise and insights but also immersing myself in a community that thrives on the exchange of ideas from individuals hailing from diverse backgrounds. This diversity enriches the academic discourse, fosters cross-cultural understanding, and cultivates a multifaceted approach to tackling complex challenges in research, teaching, and collaboration.

Moreover, Aalto's strategic location within the Nordic region and its connections across Europe presented an enticing platform to cultivate and nurture collaborations. The opportunity to engage with like-minded peers from Nordic universities, as well as other esteemed institutions across Europe, held the promise of extending the reach of my work. The potential to co-create knowledge, share experiences, and collectively address pressing socio-economic and spatial challenges within these interconnected academic networks was truly compelling.’  

What are the highlights of your career?

‘After my doctoral dissertation, it is my academic experience in Asia – Malaysia in Southeast Asia and Qatar in the Gulf. This period of engagement allowed me to immerse myself in the intricate tapestry of urban dynamics within the context of the global South. The challenges and opportunities presented by rapidly urbanizing societies became the focus of my exploration, where I delved into understanding the unique socio-economic, spatial, and environmental transformations shaping these regions.

This experience not only broadened my horizons but also exposed me to an entirely different set of urban challenges and urbanization patterns. The diverse cultural, economic, and political landscapes in this region provideda fertile ground for in-depth research and critical analysis. This research was recently compiled in a book titled "Predatory Urbanism " that analyses the transformation of cities in the so-called global South. I think this type of knowledge is important also for critically understanding the ongoing and future challenges in cities of the global north.’

My task is to unravel the ways in which the transition towards sustainability impacts the physical and spatial fabric of our cities."

Professor Agatino Rizzo

What do you research and why?  

‘I like to start from the end, I try to work on topics that are meaningful to me and society at large. So, the "why" is to contribute to better cities and societies. This overarching goal is not just a scholarly pursuit; it's a personal calling to leverage my expertise in a manner that resonates with the needs and aspirations of the communities we inhabit. My research serves as a conduit for channeling knowledge, insights, and innovative ideas toward new methods and understandings that enhance urban living conditions, promote social inclusion and contribute to sustainability.

I have a personal taste for research topics that expand my knowledge beyond mainstream planning. This often means to work with others who are not necessarily planners, architects or social scientists. I believe that interdisciplinary collaboration is a potent catalyst for innovation, and thus, I actively seek to engage with individuals from diverse fields who offer unique perspectives. This collaborative ethos not only enriches my own understanding but also widens the scope of my research inquiries, leading, I hope, to creativeand comprehensive insights.’

What is topical in your field right now?

‘In the current landscape of my field, a rapidly relevant and captivating theme is the impact of new technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), on the domain of planning. The intersection of technology and planningpracticeisunveiling a new realm of possibilities, potentiallyreshaping the role of urban planners. As these technologies continue to evolve, they will be opening new questions at the interface of democracy and city planning.I am also interested in studying how these technologies will change the role of planners and architects.’  

What are your expectations for the future in your field? 

‘One of my foremost expectations centers around a fundamental reexamination of the role and competencies of planners in the context of the ongoing energy and digital transitions that cities and smaller towns are navigating in. As sustainability becomes an increasingly urgent imperative, architects and planners are poised to assume a pivotal position in guiding this transformation. 

Also, my expectation is a more balanced (South–North and city–rural) knowledge production within the academia. This should maybe foster a global exchange of ideas, encompassing both urban and rural contexts, and amplifying voices from regions traditionally underrepresented in scholarly discourse. This shift will lead to a more nuanced understanding of urbanization processes, planning challenges, and innovative solutions across diverse socio-economic and cultural landscapes. It will also encourage collaboration between researchers from different regions, contributing to new knowledge that address the complex urban-rural interplay.’ 

Why should one study urban planning?   

‘It helps to create better living places; more inclusive, fair and sustainable societies. Studying urban planning equips individuals with a unique toolkit to shape the environments we inhabit. Urban planners possess the ability to envision, design, and implement spaces that transcend mere physicality—they become catalysts for fostering vibrant communities and nurturing a sense of belonging. By delving into the intricacies of urban planning, one gains the insights necessary to craft environments that embrace diversity, where people from all walks of life can thrive, coexist, and contribute meaningfully to society.’ 

What other interests do you have?  

‘Beyond the realm of academia, I am curious about the vast expanse of space and the captivating journey of space exploration. This fascination is fueled by an intrinsic desire to venture into the unknown, much like my penchant for traveling and delving into uncharted territories. This convergence of interests is further nurtured by my interest in science fiction, which adds a layer of speculative wonder to the possibilities lying ahead for society.’

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Fact box: Who?    

Position: Professor in urban planning at Aalto University's School of Arts, Design and Architecture 

Background: Architect and engineer from Italy, have lived in Sweden for 10 years 

Age:  43 

Family:  Wife and a small daughter  

Hobbies: Spending time with my family, skiing, walking, swimming   

Contact:

 Professor Agatino Rizzo, [email protected], +358504492811 

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