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Enrico Giacopelli
Ivrea: Town, industries and architecture


I want to briefly describe the modern architectural heritage of Ivrea and to discuss about the improvement and preservation policies developed and applied in the last five years with particular regards to the experimental programme of restoration of the Canton Vesco Neighbourhood.


Ivrea is the most famous place in Italy where during the XX century the ideas of Modern Movement in architecture found a fertile field of experimentation.
The architectures of the city, linked to Olivetti, were made by well-known Italian architects and planners, who have the possibility to create new models and languages in architecture, re-thinking all the international experiences in a very Italian and original way.

A very closely relationship links the Olivetti name with Ivrea and the Canavese District.
The history of the Company and the economic, social, and cultural history of the district have been bound together for over a century.

Architecture in Ivrea is the testimony of a period of great importance for the Italian national culture: from Thirties to Sixties Adriano Olivetti made possible experimentations in the field of architecture and town planning, and opened an original discussion as concern social, political and economical subjects, which signed the Italian Cultural debate, thanks to his theorical idea of the "comunitŕ" (Community).

What is streaking is the capability of Olivetti to promote a debate that has the territory, more than architecture, as its object of discussion and to bring together for over thirty years intellectuals, designers and architects.

Because this capability, the industrial landscape of Ivrea has been enriched with important buildings still before the war: the ICO workshop, the nursery school and the houses for employees and workers by Figini & Pollini and, after, in the post-war period: the canteen by the Gardella, the nursery school by Ridolfi, the latest enlargement of the Olivetti factory by Figini & Pollini, to cite the most well-known examples.

Moreover, a comprehensive company policy, conducted through the Office for Olivetti Employee's homes, managed by the architect Tarpino, contributed to the construction of a truly modern landscape: it is through the residences for workers or villas for executives that those architectural models, belonging to the International Culture, have their first local fall-out.

The construction of the specific community in Ivrea was not linked to solutions, or to specific formal codes ("Rationalist" or "Organic" for instance).

These architectures are to be explained within a culture undergoing considerable change, as was that of Italy in the post second world war period: its ambiguity in interpreting the international models is closely linked to a particular cultural and professional situation, which saw architects poised between profession and political commitment, between social action and professional activity, architects to which Olivetti offers a first possibility to experiments a formal agenda and an ethical rule.

For all these reason, to speck about Ivrea and its architectures means to speak about the Italian culture and live political clima from post second world war just to now.


From the productive and financial crisis of Olivetti in the nineteen's the idea of creating an Open-air Museum of Modern Architecture was born, s an instrument to provide information about the Ivrea industrial and architectural heritage, and an element of attraction for cultural tourism.

This decision pointed out the lack of knowledge and classification of the modern architectural heritage built by Olivetti, and highlighted the need to set up some strategies for its conservation.

The founding of the museum brought to the need of selecting the "objects" - the museum's collection - to be "exhibited", and to ensure that the state of preservation of the collection should be adequate in order to meet the expectations of the museum's future public.

During three years (between 1996 and 1999) a special Bureau of the City of Ivrea worked on the general planning design of the open-air museum, and organising guided visits to the architectures, exhibitions and congresses for promoting the Museum's project.

At the same time the Bureau drawn up an operative programme in order to obtain a database of the buildings and finalise adequate strategies to protect it.

The programme foresaw two distinct phases:

The first phase led to the creation of a catalogue of architectural heritage.

The second phase led to the processing and testing of procedures for the protection of the buildings.

First phase produced forms and thematics maps.

The forms, one for each building identified, contain schematic historical data and photographic documentation of the building, as well as a description and brief evaluation of its state of preservation and main characteristics of its decay.

The thematic maps highlight instead the quantitative and qualitative extension of the phenomenon, identifying the position of each building within the town, its area of pertinence, its eventual location within an constraint area and the state of preservation of each.

This research has led to the classification of over 200 constructions linked to the architectural and urban program of Olivetti, of which:

186 are homes,
11 industrial buildings,
6 offices and factory service buildings,
3 social services buildings,
3 schools,
2 religious buildings,
1 residence,
1 multi-functional building.

To these numerous lesser industrial buildings that have not been catalogued and some important projects financed by Olivetti, such as, for example, the construction of the new Hospital and the restoration of the Theatre "Giuseppe Giacosa" are to be added.

The second phase - associated with protection - has required a longer and less linear processing procedure because all the buildings in object are private property and, often, they are still functioning and used for the purposes for which they were built.

So, any direct action under the aegis of the public administration as regards restoration and maintenance was impossible.
That obliged Authorities to involve the users and owners of the buildings in each restoration project.

The control instrument developed by the authorities consisted of a "Regulation" with the aim of defining criteria for conservation and maintenance operations compatible with the formal and structural characteristics of the buildings identified in the catalogue.

The main goals of this Regulation should bee:

- encourage actions ensuring the maintenance of the buildings in a condition as close as possible to the original

- enabling the modifications needed to adapt the buildings to current legislation or to correct any errors in design or construction.

- distinguish the differents family of buildings

- define unambiguously the quality and the type of operation allowed in each of these families of buildings, like: "maintenance", "refurbishment", "restoration" and "enlargement"

- make obvious and unavoidable the concept that conservation and/or restoration was to be adopted in any case and for every building of the catalogue;

Beacause the vastness and variety of the properties to be checked and the consequent impossibility in the short period to acquire all the informations available about each building, the regulation, finally, should have an extremely pragmatic formula and an open structure for future evolution.

These objectives were summarised in a provisional text that set out in a fairly precise and reasoned manner the concrete dispositions and mechanisms of implementation of the definitive Regulations.

After that we wish to test the effectiveness of new Regulation in a real situation.
So, we want to check their capability to identify and correct any problems and to create constructive links between the parties in play: public authorities, owners, architects, museum.


The chance came in the middle of 1997, with the opening of some yards in one of the most important residential neighbourhood realised by Olivetti: Canton Vesco.

Thus, Canton Vesco has "naturally" become the laboratory in which the methods of investigation, the technical solutions and administrative procedures were refined and tested in a real-life situation before to be extended to the rest of the buildings in the catalogue.

The neighbourhood is located in the southern part of the town, within an Olivetti site of about 19.000 square meters .
It represent the major project implemented by the Company to respond to the demand for homes caused by its rapid expansion in the immediate post-war years.

Luigi Figini designed two versions of asset of the neighbourhood just before the II world war but the final form of Canton Vesco closely reflects the master plan drawn up in 1948 by Annibale Fiocchi.

Characterised by a certain rigidity of ground-plan, but also with plenty of open space and allowing for provision of considerable services to the home, Fiocchi's project blends in an interesting synthesis the typical features of the rationalist pre-war residential quarters and the idea of a neighbourhood unity, which in those years was spreading amongst town planners in the wake of English and Americans examples.

Within the neighbourhood there are 35 buildings, including two which stand out for quality: two little jewels of modern Italian architecture: Quaroni's primary school and Ridolfi and Wolfgang Frankl's nursery school.

With the exception of two buildings existing before Fiocchi's master plan, and of two towers and and two buildings all built in more recent years, the remining residential buildings still are those designed by Fiocchi and Nizzoli.

They re-processed for Canton Vesco three types of house which had been previously used in the small residential neighbourhood of Canton Vigna, located just at the north of Canton Vesco.

The initials investigations conducted for the creation of the catalogue and the subsequent work in the field have highlighted the fact that the decay is caused in equal measure by factors associated with the:

- action of time,
- indifference of users,
- errors in design and construction,
- uncorrect management of the buildings.

Numerous factors, all acting upon the differents types of building, contributed to causing widespread material and aesthetic decay, with a wide range of different situations and aspects requiring repair.
So the application of the Regulations had to take these situations into account.

As above mentioned, when the first yard opened in Canton Vesco, the drafting of the Regulations was at an early stage yet.
In other words, we asked the owners to comply with the guidelines before they becames mandatory rules.

Furthemore, inhabitants were not always aware of the importance of their buildings, and normally they were used to undertaking work on them completely free of interference by authorities.

So at bottom, it was a matter of convincing ihnabitants to accept the impositions of a regulations without any juridical validity, and accept a theory of restoration that inevitably imposed some limits on their freedom of action.

This could be possible:
- First, by adopting an informal, non-bureaucratic relationship between the administration and the owners,
- Second, ensuring that contacts between the parties concerned were not limited merely to delivering documents to the technical office,
- Third, making easier requests for building permits.

All this elements being completely alien to the traditional manners of the Italian authorities.

The work of the consultants to whom was entrusted the task of implementing the trials in the field was therefore pointed at three objectives:
- to convince those who were in some way involved in the yard (owners, tenants, building administrators, arcchitects, constructors) of the need to apply a rigorous method for the preservation of the buildings;
- to illustrate the logic and specific contents of the regulations;
- to guide their application.

The presence in the field of two autoritie's representatives made it possible to tackle the problems regarding decay and the needs for modification raised by the users directly in the building and in detail, discussing the solutions for restructuring and decoration with the owners and architects before the definitive drafting of the plans and presentation for building permits.

In this way, the close scrutiny of the plans by the Building Commission became a simple formality.

Up to the present day, this method has been applied with some success in the restructuring of about ten buildings in Canton Vesco.
The unusual approach has obviously contributed more than a little to spreading and rendering more acceptable the imposition of regulations, with the logic behind these being more comprehensible and the general aims of the whole operation shared by all involved.

In particular, after the first operations, some appreciation was expressed at the simplicity with which it was possible to return the buildings to their original look and remedy the problem of physical and technological decay with costs no higher than those needed to do the same work in a manner less mindful of preserving the original character of the buildings.

The operations effected until now, therefore, have met with the effectively universal consensus of the owners and residents who after initial diffidence, appreciated the service offered by the council authorities, and the effectiveness of a method that helps provide sure solutions and simplify the bureaucratic approval process.

Appreciation for the results gained was such that a restoration of a building by Fiocchi and Nizzoli located in the little neigborhood of Canton Vigna, that had previously suffered greatly in terms of inadequate repairs and decorations, was completed independently (and largely correctly) by the residents, who followed the guidelines suggested by the regulations and applied to the Canton Vesco's buildings.


The success of the policies of improvement and restoration that I've described should bee hilightened by the fact that the new Town-Planning Scheme of Ivrea, recently designed by professor Campos Venuti (maybe the most important Italian planner), for the first time in Italy, takes into account not only the historic heritage of the town, but also its contemporary heritage.

This consideration has led to the drafting of a "Map of Quality", that identified all the buildings of the Catalogue between the hystorical monuments of the town.

This fact assure definitively that preservation of the original character of the urban framework of the Olivetti's town and restoration of the original characters of the buildings of the "Olivetti's hertitage" became a general and significant goal for citizen and public authorities of Ivrea.

This is exactly what we wish at the start of the project of the Museum.

August 2003

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