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Design of the unfinished

A new way of designing leftovers regeneration

Former Warehouse, Varese, 2018. Collection: Luciano Crespi, Marino Crespi, with Barbara Di Prete, Fiamma Invernizzi, Osvaldo Pogliani

For almost forty years, the reuse of large industrial areas that are no longer active has been dealt with all over the world. Italy was among the first countries to have a very influential school of thought in the field of urban transformations induced by the disposal of entire industrial sectors and in the study of how to implement their rehabilitation. Next came the reflections, and above all the policies, from other industrialised countries affected by the same phenomenon. The literature about the re-functionalisation of former industrial areas or other types of disused spaces is now considerable, but in its vast majority it concerns examples of building renovation. More recently, studies have also been published about interventions based on participatory procedures, therefore involving as protagonists a plurality of subjects often belonging to new creative "classes".

What is missing on this subject is a design thinking which goes beyond the observation of practical reasons—ethical, economic, cultural and social—that guides the decision of recovering this heritage that is made up of places and memories. A way of looking at things that investigates beyond the mere effectiveness of these interventions in terms of public and critical consensus. A design thinking capable of indicating a new perspective and some work trajectories, demonstrating the fascination that these architectures still preserve.

Design of the unfinished represents a distinctive survey on the regeneration of leftovers - warehouses, churches, schools, stations, etc… - i.e., places that have stopped playing the role for which they were built. The experimental design work, carried out for many years with interior design students at Politecnico di Milano, has made it possible to formulate a paradigm which can offer an alternative to both the practices of building renovation adopted up to now and the experiments of temporary use carried out in the form of self-design and often even self-construction. Clues on how to overcome the old paradigm can be found in the paradigm itself, however in the history of knowledge there are passages where a leap is required, a programmatic break with past knowledge. This is what this blog proposes. Evidence coming from the design universe that testifies the diffusion, all over the world, of first signs of a design approach looking into leftovers regeneration, that belongs to what is defined here as "design of the unfinished".

Exhibition Rooms for Frigoriferi Militari, Cuneo, 2020. Collection: Luciano Crespi with Francesco Antonelli, Lucia Ratti, Mirco Sturlese

This method of intervention is also aimed at countering the gentrification phenomenon. Interventions promoted by land speculation, designed to subtract parts of the historic nuclei from the original residents’ use and assign them to a new cultural class searching for glamorous places, are opposed by an approach capable of enhancing the leftovers memory stratification, tasking them to respond to the hospitality and relevant services demand from the new border crossers, the contemporary neo-nomads. It is a matter of operating capillarly, not replacing entire urban areas, but through minimally invasive surgery, to give them new temporary functions, capable of adapting to the needs arising from emergencies. As the Pandemic has taught us in recent months, most of the mega urban regeneration projects, destined to take up mountains of economic resources and require biblical timeframes, risk becoming obsolete before they are even born. Faced with a world that is changing at an astonishing speed and seems unmanageable with the tools we have known up to now, it looks wise adopting in cities measures that respond to a strategic design but can be implemented in a short time, with minimum resources, are reversible and do not involve further land consumption. At the same time, they should also witness the need for a new aesthetic, in design and in architecture.


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