The Fiat factory in the Lingotto quarter in the southern part of Turin was first conceived in 1915. Giovanni Agnelli, the founder of the popular automotive corporation, assigned the task to the architect Giacomo Mattè-Trucco. Despite the ongoing war, Mattè-Trucco was able to keep construction work going and on the 15th May 1923 the factory was officially inaugurated in the presence of King Vittorio Emanuele III. The massive building in reinforced concrete was composed of four different modules (units) hosting production spaces (foundries, a handling centre, furnaces), offices and various other facilities. On the sides, two elliptical flights of stairs – one of them completed subsequently in 1926 – connected the departments located on different floors, while a car test track marked by Futurist taste was placed on the roof. Being one of the most sensitive ‘production-targets’ during the conflict, the complex of Fiat Lingotto was repeatedly bombed by the Allies from 1940 to 1944. Though damaged, and with its production capacity limited, the building was able to survive WWII. Officially closed at the beginning of the eighties, the factory was at the centre of an extended restoration plan involving the whole quarter (1983-2003) assigned to the architect Renzo Piano. Today Fiat Lingotto hosts several businesses such as a cinema, an exhibition centre, a commercial area and the private art foundation of Giovanni and Marella Agnelli.
The Spatial Construction of the New Man’s Urban Reality
Narrative Rationalization: Staging a Collective Spectacle
Fiat Lingotto can be recognised as one of the first and most significant examples of modern architecture within the industrial field. The building was cited by Le Corbusier already in 1924 as 'one of the most impressive sights in industry' (Le Corbusier 1924) and considered 'an incomparable building made out of plain forms […] able to express the principle of order' by the Italian critic Edoardo Persico (De Seta 1972, 183). This Fiat site is an enormous, regularly shaped factory, impressive both in height and longitudinally, and was conceived as the ultimate industrial archetype dedicated to the mass production of (mainly) family cars.
Located outside the centre of one of the most developed industrial cities, Turin, it embodied a kind of ‘industrial neighbourhood’, a modern company town within a peripheral but still urban context. Despite nodding to some American examples – primarily Ford – Fiat Lingotto was able to fully express a sense of Italian national identity, not least due to its modern architectural style: the car test track onto the roof, for example, reflected the Futurist experimentations of the twenties and thirties.
This ‘collective spectacle’ continued into the interiors, where sectors and facilities were located according to a rational and practical order. From the production site to the locker rooms, from the furnaces to the elevators, every space was designed to be operational and well-connected. The two main elliptical staircases on the two sides of the building, besides being magnificent architectural expressions, served practically to join different areas.
Fiat Lingotto concretely embodied the development of a nation that could proudly show to Europe the economic growth of its industrial field. Intended to attract investments, it became also a strategic site for the mass production of popular icons addressed to Italian families. Fascist culture capitalized on this aspect, as exemplified by one of the most well-known car models of the thirties, the Fiat 508 Balilla, which used the term “balilla” adopted by the regime to indicate ‘something nationalistic’ (e.g.Opera Nazionale Balilla).
Bigazzi, Duccio. 2000. La grande fabbrica: organizzazione industriale e modello americano alla Fiat dal Lingotto a Mirafiori. Milan: Feltrinelli.
De Seta, Cesare. 1972. La cultura architettonica in Italia tra le due guerre. Rome-Bari: Editori Laterza.
Le Corbusier. 1924. Vers une architecture. Paris: G. Grès et Cie.