The extension ans renovation of the Olivetti factory in Ivrea was the result of the collaboration between patron of modern architecture Adriano Olivetti and rationalist architects Luigi Figini and Gino Pollini, from whom Olivetti commissioned the project in 1934. The construction of two new buildings to extend the factory plant – which consisted of a redbrick construction built by Camillo Olivetti, Adriano’s father – began in 1934 and lasted around 8 years, during which a series of extensions were added. The architects rejected ‘the typology of the workshop enclosed by walls’ creating a barrier between the inside and the outside (Pollini 1988, 156). Simple reinforced concrete or steel frames were used, applying functionalist principles, as well as enabling the inclusion of a key element of modern architecture, large windows, which became the symbol of the Olivetti factory. The architects, encouraged by Olivetti himself, opted for a fully glazed façade, never before built in Italy.
The Spatial Construction of the New Man’s Urban Reality
Narrative Rationalization: Staging a Collective Spectacle
In the 1920s and 1930s industrial architecture became increasingly central to the concerns of modernist architects and in particular the rationalist movement see also Fiat Lingotto, an emblematic building which predates this period). Industrial architecture was crucial to the development of modern architecture in the twentieth century, and the buildings commissioned, and co-designed, by Olivetti from 1934 onwards were among the most significant examples of this genre. Adriano Olivetti was an engineer and entrepreneur, who saw architecture and urban planning as central aspects of the project of modernization which he had initiated on taking over the family business, a factory producing typewriters, in 1932. His modern and enlightened idea of entrepreneurship involved putting the ‘financial power and the refined technique’ of the enterprise ‘at the disinterested service of the social and cultural progress of the territory in which it operates’ (Olivetti 1960, 44-45).
The main principle that guided the design of modern industrial buildings was the rationalization of the productive space, accompanied by the need for order and transparency; functional values which, nevertheless, also assumed symbolic meanings. As Walter Gropius, who had designed one of the twentieth century’s most emblematic industrial buildings the Fagus Factory, in Alfeld-an-der-Leine stated, the architect needed to consider the aesthetic, as well as the technical and practical aspects of designing such buildings. A modern, ultra-rational industrial aesthetic created by architects would not only provide factory workers with light, air, and cleanliness, but also offer them ‘a great common ideal’. The purpose was dignifying work and workers, and making them feel part of a great collective project, conferring greater meaning upon a mechanical type of work that risked being monotonous and dehumanizing.
Figini, Pollini, and Olivetti himself applied these principles in designing the extension to the Olivetti factory and its renovation. Scientific management theories influenced the layout of the working space, which followed the production line according to functionalist principles. The use of simple reinforced concrete or steel frames reflected a rationalist aesthetic based on pure functionality and the visibility of the construction methods employed, bestowing aesthetic value upon the very materials and structural elements used in the building. The large windows enabled functional lighting and were essential in the model of the ‘daylight factory’, which exploited enhanced natural lighting throughout the working day, and symbolically represented the factory’s transparency, cleanliness, openness, and hygienic character. Concrete and glass, white plaster and flat roofs contributed to the creation of the rational and ultra-modern image of the factory formulated by Gropius, which from that moment on became a trademark of Olivetti and his enlightened entrepreneurial model.
In 1935, Olivetti enlisted Figini and Pollini again, and with them devised a plan for a new working-class district near the factory, in Ivrea. After the initial project of modernizing and rationalizing the factory space, he began planning building projects and infrastructure centred on the factory, but reaching outwards to shape the surrounding area. This practice ensued from his belief that the presence of a factory should positively impact upon its context, and generate social and cultural change.
This understanding of architecture as an instrument of social engineering and community creation through the management of the collective space was of course, in the 1930s, very much aligned with the social goals of the regime and the accomplishment of the Fascist ‘revolution’. Olivetti embraced some aspects of the regime’s economic and artistic policies, in particular in the field of urban planning, where he saw the regime as a strong central power which could directly implement the necessary transformations in urban areas, following the model of ‘corporativist urbanism’, mainly theorized on Quadrante. In 1935 he wrote an article entitled ‘Razionalizzazione e corporazioni’ which was published in Il lavoro fascista and Quadrante, in which he stated the need to establish a centralized institute for construction and urban planning. He claimed that since ‘new urban planning must be the most obvious expression of the Fascist revolution’, the centralization and standardization of directives would be instrumental in the creation of a ‘style, an architecture and urban planning of the Fascist era, in their material expression’. In 1936 Olivetti met with Mussolini to discuss the aforementioned project for a working-class district in Ivrea.
Astarita, Rossano. 2012 . Gli architetti di Olivetti: una storia di committenza industriale. Milan: Franco Angeli.
De Seta, Cesare. 2012 . ‘Introduzione.’ In Gli architetti di Olivetti: una storia di committenza industriale, edited by Rossano Astarita, 11-20. Milan: Franco Angeli.
Olivetti, Adriano. 1935. ‘Razionalizzazione e corporazioni.’ Quadrante 3 (21) (January): 5-6.
Olivetti, Adriano. 1960. Città dell’uomo. Milan: Edizioni di Comunità.
Pampaloni, Geno. 1980. Adriano Olivetti: un’idea di democrazia. Milan: Edizioni di Comunità.
Pollini, Gino. 1988. ‘Fabbrica e quartiere a Ivrea.’ In La comunità concreta: progetto ed immagine. Il pensiero e le iniziative di Adriano Olivetti nella formazione della cultura urbanistica ed architettonica italiana, edited by Marcello Fabbri and Antonella Greco, 155-59. Rome: Fondazione Adriano Olivetti.