12 July 2011

Memories of Adriano - Ivrea, Olivetti’s democratic Factory-city A Piedmontese destination that the international tourism must relaunch


  Ivrea, Olivetti’s democratic Factory-city

A Piedmontese destination that the international tourism must relaunch

Above the title: the modern enlargement of ICO Workshops, realized in Ivrea between 1939 and 1942 by Figini and Pollini. There was such an atmosphere in Ivrea during those years that the employees were pervaded by a new feeling of belonging, while entering the factory.
Above: at the release of the new “Valentina” designed by Ettore Sottsas, light portable typewriter from the 60’s; the promotional campaign makes use of new and sophisticated communicative techniques, based on the public’s tastes but also on the spread of a common need of new culture, which was able to overturn fears and frustrations into positive.

The Ivrea-Museum has been living for some years but it doesn’t look so alive like it should be, since you don’t hear much about it unless you live in Ivrea.
It’s been a while that the press has ignored the matter, and this total silence is hanging over the touristic promotions. Who knows how the situation is abroad, since not much appears from the baedekers, and even less from the magazines dedicated to tourism: maybe it isn’t considered a touristic destination anymore?...Not even for cultural tourism?

Luigi Figini  and  Gino Pollini, drawing of a piece of the long facade made out of steel and glass of the new Olivetti factory in ivrea, in Jervis street , whose construction has been started at the and of the 30’s. The new rationalist italian architecture, inspired by the first concrete experiences of Bauhaus, and from the new International teorie of the CIAM (International Congresses of Modern Architecture), moves its first steps in Ivrea, feeding on enthusiasm and spreading vital optimism.

We believe that the situation described isn’t really flattering, and that we’ve got to do more to pay homage to the big Olivetti’s democratic dream, and to increase some interest not only in a specialistic but also in a touristic way, around its realizations; those ones that have made Ivrea, strarting from the 30’s, a breeding ground of initiatives that involved production logics, work environments, social structures, the idea of free time itself, so that everything could become a new idea of city, a new architecture, but also a new idea of society, and new lifestyles for those working classes become protagonists in the new social structure.

The new Corporate Identity Olivetti, (Xanti Schawinsky , Giovanni Pintori, Marcello Nizzoli, Renzo Zorzi, Walter Ballmer, Giovanni Ferioli), has found, starting from the 50’s, the support of a graphic art and a poster designing able to bring a true innovation of taste, making an Olivetti product identifiable for the first time as a product of high technological qualities, affordable for the big masses. In this poster, it becomes a present-object.


Today all of this appears really far, in time and space, and swallowed by history; it seems impossibile that a chapter so important of industrial, social and economical culture of our Country, but also worldwide, has been neglected in the past years, and it is not considered an important touristic destination anymore like it should be (especially since the beauties of antiquity and history of art have stopped being the only key factors for International tourism).

A portrait of Adriano Olivetti in front of the new ICO enlargements, built on the new values of the democratic factory-city, spread by him through the pages of Comunità magazine, which was founded by him in 1952 and was edited by Renzo Zorzi

"Mamivrea" defines itself “Virtual Museum”, since it’s not constituted by works hanging on the wall of a museum or an art gallery: the city becomes a museum of itself, being made out of buildings that have become part of modern architecture history in the world, and a symbol of a whole age, the one that Adriano Olivetti has marked with its strong personality of enlightened businessman; he has been a specialist in town planning, architecture and design, and the proponent of a “factory ethic” that could highlight the social themes as an integral part of a new way of production.

Ivrea, the oldest wing of ICO workshops (Engineer Camillo Olivetti, Adriano’s father,
founder of the factory in Ivrea)

During the period in which Adriano, keeping his father’s work alive, started in first person his “utopia of reality”, some vanguard productions were being lanched in the field of office instrumentation, with calculators and typewriters that filled up all the world markets, able to unify technologic excellence with aesthetic qualities, and born with the collaboration of engineers and designers famous all over the world.

One of the first advertisement of Olivetti, in the age of ICO officines (Eng Camillo Olivetti), 1896

In that angle of world that Ivreas was, the modern design was born, together with the most innovative methods of the new town planning, based on the principles ratified by the CIAM (International Congresses of Modern Architecture). Ivrea was also a fertile field for the experimentation of Olivetti’s modern sociology theories. The city also gave start to really effective experiments in the field of communication and promotion, following techniques never experimented until then.

The Divisumma MC 24 of 1956, deprived of its body. It’s been the electromechanical calculator most sold in the world. Divisumma 24 is the result of an extraordinary and complex whole of cinematic devices. Projected by Natale Capellaro with Marcello Nizzoli’s design and produced in 1956, Divisumma was a product of technologic vanguard in its times; it had an extraordinary commercial success in italy and on International markets. The technologic innovation and the excellence of the product allowed to apply really gainful prices: in 1957 Divisumma was sold for 325.000 liras, when the cost of a FIAT 500 was 465.000. For Olivetti this machine, kept on the market for about 15 years, became a real fount of profitability: the gross margin, in fact, during the first period was close to 90%. (Source: historical archive Olivetti)

Comunità magazine, edited by Comunità Editions, founded by Adriano Olivetti in 1964, was a chance of success for the most famous names in the sociological, economic, didactic, artistic, urban, architectonic, graphic, planning, historiographical field, in the experimentation of new theories.

Ivrea, the Olivetti establishments in an historical postcard, where you can see Jervis street, with the new Figini and Pollini officines of 1939-42. Many Fiat “Topolino” and “Giardinetta” already appear on the platforms, outlining the consumerist image that modernity was adopting in the eyes of a working-class of people who didn’t even believe they could belong to it. The product Olivetti, in this scenery, was assuming the same valencies.

In the social field Adriano was always inspired by the idea of making his employees’ well-being an integral part of the new philosophies applied to the factory. In 1956 Adriano Olivetti officially reduced the working hours from 48 to 45 weekly hours, thing that today can make you wince if you compare our social, economical and political situation with that one. This result was one of the components of the general well-being that the factory wanted to offer to the city, almost entirely utilized in Olivetti, together with other benefits that the citizens could enjoy, even out of the working hours.

Olivetti Studio 42, of 1935, designed by Xanti Schawinsky with Figini and Pollini. It’s been the first portable typewriter in history.

It was a breeding ground of ideas that met on the pages of the monthly magazine and that measured themselves on a real field, Ivrea, with its factories, its offices, its new schools, its new social centers, its structures for amusement and free time, its new residential districts, born around the one-to-one needs of the big factory and of the working-classes that were emancipating themselves.

Advertisement of Lettera 22, designed by Marcello Nizzoli in 1950. It became famous because it was the work tool of Indro Montanelli (great italian journalist and writer, 1930-2006). The poster was created by Giovanni Pintori.

Peolpe have been talking about Ivrea’s virtual museum since, in 1996, the administration of the city has charged some scholars with tuning a project that could recreate the interest for those works that had made Ivrea, starting from the 30’s, a unique place. In 2000 this initiative was finally launched, through the activity of Archland association, which was in charge of the works’ cataloguing, the museum planning, its communication and services, so a sto create the Virtual Museum of Modern Architecture of Ivrea in 2001 ( In 2007, 3000 visitors every month were added, exceeding the threshold of 90 visits every day.

Realized by Figini, Pollini and Fiocchi, this is the third enlargement of Olivetti Officines, of 1949, characterized by shutters made out of cement

What is the Museum collection constituted by? It is mainly made out of buildings with the modern and rationalist achitecture created by Adriano Olivetti with the architects Figini and Pollini. And before them, it was constituted by the factory created by Camillo Olivetti in 1896. The most significant parts of this rationalst architecture are: the first enlargement of the old ICO officines (Engineer Camillo Olivetti), realized by Figini and Pollini between 1934 and 1939. Between ’39 and ’42 the second enlargement, characterized by the long facade completely made out of glass on Jervis street, always realized by Figini and Pollini. Between ’47 and ’49 the third enlargement completed the long facade on Jervis street (Figini and Pollini), and added an indoor part (architect Fiocchi).

A picture of the inner court of the new Centre of Social Services on Jervis street, realized by Figini and Pollini in 1959. In the background you can see the officines of the First Enlargement of ’39-’41. This building already denotes the new harsh tendency of the visible cement.

Between ’57 and ’62 the new ICO, and the new body of connection completed the modifications on Figini and Pollini’s project while the new modifications were started by architect Vittoria, with Sudi and Experiences Center, with the new thermoelectric station. Then, in 1959, Figini and Pollini created the new social center and Gardella created the cafeteria in 1961.

Ignazio Gardella, the new Olivetti cafeteria , realized in 1961. Once the officines, the daycare center and the new Social Center were completed, Ivrea started to adopt, thanks to Adriano Olivetti, some new structures like this cafeteria, the offices and numerous residential and commercial districts aimed at completing the fatory-city in each one of its parts, follwing the most advanced theoretical models. Ivrea became in a few years a testing ground for new territorial politicies, showing itself as a worldwide model.

Beyond the area of the big factory, in Olivetti Suburb, in 1941 the daycare centre rose up, followed by the first lodgings in 1942, at the hand of Figini and Pollini. Between 1942 and 1947 the Catellammonte distric was realized, with numerous units of experimental lodgings, created by Figini, Pollini, Nizzoli, Oliveri, Gabeti and Isola, all famous italian architects who were commissioned by Adriano Olivetti himself. Between 1964 and ’88 the main buildings for offices were realized, at the hand of the architects Bernasconi, Fiocchi, Nizzoli and Valle.

Social and Residential Est Services Center (later become Hotel La Serra) by the Venetian architects Iginio Cappai and Pietro Mainardis. The building, which is similar to the Parisian Beauburg  by Renzo Piano in many ways, was constructed in Ivrea about 10 years before.

Between 2008 and today, in Mamivrea ( some sections regarding Olivetti design and products for graphic and advertising communication have started.

As a crowning achievement of the activity that Adriano Olivetti carried out, in 1957 he was awarded a special prize for the “vanguard action in the field of international business management” by the General Management Association of New York.

Unanimously considered a masterpiece, the shop that Adriano Olivetti has personally wanted in Venice, in San Marco Square, realized by Carlo Scarpa. After decades of neglect, the shop has today been restored and entrusted to FAI, which will open it to the public.

Olivetti ended up reaching an amount of more than 36.000, half of them abroad.

Ivrea, February 5th 2011  (versione originale in italiano)
Enrico Mercatali

(traduzione dall'inglese di Penelope Mirotti)

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