What are “Critical Infrastructures”?

The research training group investigates critical infrastructures of urban supply and disposal, communication and urban transport. These systems have become the nervous system of modern cities, the disruption of which can trigger dramatic crises. The growing vulnerability of modern (urban) societies due to infrastructural connectivity is now controversially discussed. This is attributed to external threats to infrastructure systems from natural disasters, terrorist attacks, pandemics, and cyberattacks, but also to the growing complexity and increasing interdependencies of those systems.


The basic assumption of the College is that Critical Infrastructures are highly context-dependent in both temporal and spatial terms, and at the same time are involved in multiple spatial and temporal relationships. The goal is to understand and explain these complex systems in their spatial and temporal contexts. This is done in three main research areas: First, we want to focus on the construction of technical infrastructures as “critical”, highlighting not only technical functional necessities but also social and political attributes and illuminating them in their historical and spatial contextuality. Second, we assume that the complex spatial and temporal arrangements become particularly apparent in infrastructural functioning crises. We therefore examine failures of urban infrastructures, including the conditions of their vulnerability or resilience. Third, we ask how protection against and preparation for infrastructural functional crises are or can be organized (prevention and preparedness).

While traditional infrastructure research and policy have been organized along single sectors and disciplines, the Research Training Group argues that the challenges can only be understood through cross-sectoral research approaches and interdisciplinary exchange of humanities, social sciences, and engineering. The research and qualification program addresses the broad interdisciplinarity on three levels: conceptually by referring to relevant bridging concepts (criticality, vulnerability, resilience, preparedness, prevention), analytically by focusing on the spatio-temporal context-boundedness and relationality of critical infrastructures, and objectively by studying network-bounded systems in cities.

The Dynamics of Infrastructures

From the research conducted by the RTG to date, there is a need to systematize the concrete characteristics of the infrastructures to a greater extent. One of the most important characteristics, which applies to all critical infrastructures, is their dynamics. We are currently studying these in the characteristic areas of Transformation, Circulation, and System of Systems. They allow us to better understand the conditions of construction, functional crises, and protection.

The Research Training Group CRITIS is funded by the German Research Foundation.