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MOMONECO SEMINAR 12.-13.9.2003

Presentation to the International Seminar

Policies of Valorization of European Modernist and Industrial Environment
IVREA 12-13.9.2003

Mass-production, territory, community in Adriano Olivetti's experience (1933-1960)

The name of Adriano Olivetti and Ivrea evoke more than one image to the historian of the italian architecture, the designer, the urban planner.

In the period between the end of the thirties and the beginning of the sixties, Ivrea underwent a profound transformation in industrial terms, closely linked to the rise and fortunes of the Olivetti family.

This case-study is not legible only as one of the examples of the most enlightened clients, as it has often been done.

Its complexity and uniqueness reside in the fact that Ivrea became the place in which the attempt to affirm the supremacy of civil society over that of politics, to marry mass production with human values, territorial planning with political organization was made..

A complexity of intentions and projects, which constitutes an inheritance that is yet to be fully appraised today, despite the appearance of an initial series of in-depth studies.

Mass-production, territory, community, the sequence I propose to you in the title of my lecture, enucleates the "red threads" that allow one to read the Olivettian experience and to construct a history that restores one of the many options that "architecture" could put in a hierarchy.

The first element to be considered is Adriano Olivetti, seen as an exceptional client by a historiography still romantic and complicit . What is striking with this critical image is the capacity of Olivetti to permeate a debate that has the territory, even before architecture, as its object of discussion, and to bring together for over thirty years intellectuals, designers, architects, a capacity not easily explainable only in the terms of an enlightened client.

The ascent of the Olivetti family began with the opening of the first plant in Ivrea, manufacturing precision tools. In the years after the first war, thanks also to military orders first and institutional orders later, Olivetti increased its number of employees from 200 in 1914 to around 500 employees, producing in 1926 about 8000 typewriters a year. 8000 typewriters a year means a quantity that was certainly interesting for the Italian market, but almost derisory if compared to that of their American competitor Underwood, who produced around 850 typewriters a day in the same period.

In 1926, Adriano Olivetti began to work with his father Camillo and in the subsequent years production increased to 13,000 units in 1929 (and this is the real interesting change) and to 24,000 units in 1933 .

The change was not only linked to the introduction also at Olivetti's factory of the production systems of Taylorism, which meant the introduction of the Bedeaux system in the specific case of Olivetti .

The systems of productions distinguished industrial production and the debate around it, involving intellectuals and production engineers in the United States and Europe .

Like many Italian and European engineers, Adriano Olivetti also went to the United States in 1925. This trip did not lead him to visit only the typewriter plants of Olivetti's competitors, however, but the plants of Ford at Highland Park and at River Rouge, agricultural areas and small towns, which the policies of Roosevelt and government agencies such as the Federal Work Administration or the National Recovery Administration were transforming in an industrial sense .

The services for the industry that began to be built in Ivrea from 1934 onwards and the factory and its growth enable us to physically grasp the transformation under way in Ivrea and the centrality that this experience began to assume in the national field.

Thinking about the American examples cited above and about the architectures that were built in Ivrea in that period, we become aware that what was being constructed was an industrial landscape, i.e. a place in which the production of commodities and services and the consumption of goods proceeded hand in hand, in the original sense of mass-production.


The plan for the Aosta Valley of 1936, sponsored and supervised by Olivetti, could be used as the point of departure for a new reflection on the building of the industrial landscape in Ivrea .

The plan is a very ambiguous one.

Based on a social survey of indigent Alpine population, the goal of the plan was to suggest the possibility for that geographical area to became a tourist place with a touristic economy.
It's composed of four architectural projects (or better, case-studies) made by four different group of rationalist italian architects: the Plan for Aosta and the Plan for a mass resort at Pila by Gian Luigi Banfi, Enrico Peressutti and Ernesto Nathan Rogers, the Plan for a mountain resort at Courmayeur by Gino Pollini and Luigi Figini and the Plan for the "Conca del Breuil" by Ludovico Barbiano di Belgiojoso and Piero Bottoni.

The plan was considered by the italian contemporary architects as a possible answer to the request of the Italian Fascism in the matter of town-planning: infact it proposed a solution to the fascist discussion on the organization of administrative regions and the autonomy of communes and provinces .

The plan introduce to Italian town planning the ideas propagated by the Modern Movement (even if when the plan was presented by Piero Bottoni at the CIRPAC, it was strongly criticized by Mart Stam, because "too formal and aesthetic"): each case-study proposes an own solution to a particular question. We can cite two of the four cases. In the Plan by Luigi Figini and Gino Pollini the principles of the Charta d'Athenes are assumed as a sort of bible of the project: the characteristic of the plan is to study the armonic rapports and the lighting of the different buildings, their mimesis with the mountain landscape.

In the Plan by Ludovico Barbiano di Belgijoso and Piero Bottoni the geometrical planning of the station is in sharp contrast with the topograpghy of the site .

The originality of the plan is the conceit of region: the region suggested by the Plan of the Aosta Valley is not the administrative region, but a part of territory characterized by its strong rapport with the industry: the differece of this plan from the others contemporary plans, made by some italian or foreign theorists and architects of the Thirties, such as Gustavo Giovannoni and Marcello Piacentini , but also from others "rational" italian architect, as Giuseppe Terragni or Le Corbusier is evident.

The Plan brings into play a series of references, also of a symbolic nature, that have to do with "scientific" observations, diagrams of production, basins of production, statistical analyses, as exemplified by the review L'Organizzazione Scientifica del lavoro (which, not coincidentally, published in 1935 an article on the Plan written by the Engineer Francesco Mauro ).

What I'm keen to underline is that alongside the references of international architectural and urban planning culture, the plan for the Aosta Valley is linked to the industrial culture, which has its forum for debate in the conferences organized by the L'Organizzazione scientifica del lavoro (ENIOS) and by the Bureau International du Travail, its international partner, both institutions to which Olivetti himself belonged as entrepreneur and as President of the Fascist Trade Union of Engineers of the Aosta Valley.

The industrial culture - I referred - informed the debate at conferences on the worldwide organization of work held from Amsterdam to Brussels in the Thirties , where the theme of Fordist and Taylorist production is linked with the discussion of regionalism.

In these places planning definitions were sought comparing the Soviet, American and Italian experiences: we cannot forget infact these conferences are the place in which engineers, economists and intellectuals discuss about corporatism . The criticism of the individualism, caused by the production, in the name of evangelical values and in the name of the abstract values of personalism, in the hope of a new Renaissance, are also at the centre of the debate. At these debates the presence of Emmanuel Mounier and Hanna Harendt could explain the complexity of the subjects mentioned above . In addition the presence of intellectuals and architecs, writing on reviews such as the French reviews Plans and Prelude or the Italian review Quadrante shows the interest of the architectural culture for the themes of the debates too.

The proposal, also theoretical, of territorial planning that the Plan for Aosta Valley brought into play, constituted Olivetti's agenda until 1943: if the architectures and the factory shown the temptative to transform the territory, the reading of the review "Tecnica e Organizzazione", the first review founded by Olivetti in 1937, permits to esemplify Olivetti's studies and proposals and their international references.

The articles of the review, in fact, concern the analysis of the structure of the company, the improvement of production, they indicate solutions for the internal organization of a factory "without bureaucracy", solutions for social security, for industrial architecture, for professional education, but also examinations of the relationship between the industry and the market : the number 3 of the review, published in 1937, showed an article about Zlin and Bat'a industry.

If the Plan for the Aosta Valley underlines the attention devoted to the territory and its organization, it was the territory and its political and social organization, that informed the text written by Adriano Olivetti, L'ordine politico delle comunitÓ, drafted in 1942 and published by Nuove Edizioni Ivrea in 1945 .

On one hand, the text proposes a new engineering of institutions, on the other it proposes the definition of "Community", ambiguous and ethical initially: the community is defined as a geographical place defined by "nature" and "history", in which conflicts are settled.

By appealing to a common and superior interest, the community unites men. In the words of Adriano Olivetti the community is defined as a territorial unit: it has its foundations in "nature" and its limits in "man" and it must embody the possibility that is at the disposal of every person for social contacts.

In 1945 the text was to take on a truly radical meaning, concerning criticism of the contemporary political situation. The necessity to plan takes on an ethical primacy in the text, even before a political one: its ethical necessity could reconcile planning and the priority of the market.

While the Italian political parties proposed an ideological and generic attention to "people" (and the Italian "neorealismo" is significant of this attention), the community discovery and propose the conceit of "social" .

Territorial planning, seen through the proposal of the Community, is therefore a proposal of innovation both as concern production and as concern institutions: it is a response to the crisis brought about by World War II. Its ideological ambiguity, its contents and its truly open cultural references constitute its most interesting characteristics and at the same time guaranteed considerable support, powerful backing of the community project by intellectuals with different backgrounds (as writers, architects, planners, economists) and political affiliations (as anarchists as Carlo Doglio and Giancarlo De Carlo, marxists as Franco Momigliano, Giovanni Astengo and Ludovico Quaroni, Riccardo Musatti and Ludovico Ragghianti, liberals as Renzo Zorzi, catholics as Geno Pampaloni, azionisti as Ernesto Nathan Rogers and Luigi Figini). All of them built with Adriano Olivetti their "own" community and transformed in time the same idea of community.

The Movimento di ComunitÓ came about at the end of 1948 and by 1949 its definitive organization had already appeared. L'Ordine Politico delle ComunitÓ by Adriano Olivetti, reduced into the format of a pamphlet with the significant title "Per una civiltÓ cristiana. Fini e Fine della Politica", constitutes the basis for the proposals of the movement: its message is that the society to be built is a society will enable human beings to make the best use of their possibilities and aptitudes.

The Movimento di ComunitÓ had a very interesting territorial structure: if the task of the Movemento was to be the forum for debating the problems of Italian society and to set itself as a "metapolitical " subject, it was the community centres - spread out over the Canavese area (the region to which Ivrea belongs) and throughout Italy - that had the task of organizing the discussion, the political consensus and, above all, making provision for that programme of "education" through action and practices that are necessary for an understanding of the political and cultural debate in progress. To this end the Movimento organized debates on the political parties, on territorial planning, on the evils of the city, on architecture, on art, on the economy . Since the second post-war the activities in which Adriano Olivetti was involved should be interpreted in their double meaning of "community" and cultural commitment, with all limits it means.

Adriano Olivetti became the President of the INU, the Istituto Nazionale di Urbanistica, and with Colonnetti, the president of the CNR (National Centre for the Resarch) became the key person for the UNRRA-Casa Programme, i.e. : with this programme Olivetti was involved in great projetcs for the recnstruction of Italy, expecially for the planning of the South Italy.

He was at the head of a great number of editorial initiatives, which have the territory and its planning as the centre of their interests: the Edizioni di ComunitÓ - in which Mumford's or Gutkind's books appeared- or the reviews as "Urbanistica" or "Metron" or "ComunitÓ" are the place of debate involving town-planners and politicians, architects and sociologists in Italy in the Fifties. With this activity he contributed to renew the Italian Culture of the Fifties: Olivetti's projects, books and reviews have to be compared with the debates on town-planning in Italy produced by other group of pressure (such as Movimento Studi per l'Architettura in Milan or APAO in Rome) and with the thoughts of the characters that proposed a project or a discussion in the Movimento di ComunitÓ, in order to measure how and thank to the idea of Olivetti's community changed and enriched: Doglio's passion for Mumford, coming from his anarchist education and from his interest in Kropotkin's thoughts is one of the best example of this complex and ambiguos process.

The ambiguity caused by the political debate in which Movimento di ComunitÓ was involved could be esemplified by the questions arouse with the Plan of Ivrea in 1954.

Adriano Olivetti and the Movimento di ComunitÓ went to the regional elections of 1953 and to the national election of 1958 with good results, above all in the regional elections for the Ivrea district, where the links between Movimento di ComunitÓ, Olivetti's factory and Olivetti's social services were clear and very close. In 1954 a group was sponsored by Olivetti to organise the general town planning scheme in Ivrea: this group called in inglese Gruppo Tecnico per il Coordinamento del Canavese (GTCUC) was composed of Ludovico Quaroni and Nello Renacco as planner and architects, Carlo Doglio as planner, Luciana Nissin Momigliano as social assistent, Umberto Toschi as geographer, Claudio Napoleoni as economist. This plan was saw by the architectural culture as a possibility to explore and to create new tools for planning with the introduction of social science . Formally and conceptually, the result of the plan was the application of the principles of the zoning, a failure for the planning architectural culture, meanwhile the presence of Adriano Olivetti as head of the Movimento di ComunitÓ and sponsor of GTCUC produced a violent refusal of the plan from the other political parties in Ivrea and the plan of Ivrea failured.


If the plan is seen as the fundamental instrument for managing innovation, and the social services are the most explicit instrument for rethinking the organization of society, it is architecture that has the task of exemplifying the community project. Ivrea becomes the example of the ComunitÓ Concreta, to be exhibited as a manifesto of community politics, thanks to the presence of the factory and the concentration of initiatives for production and the social ones that have involved it over time.

The industrial landscape has been enriched with objects in the postwar period: added to the ICO workshops were the refectory by Ignazio Gardella, the kindergarten by Ridolfi, the latest enlargement of the Olivetti factory by Figini and Pollini, to cite the most well-known examples.

To these, a comprehensive company policy, conducted through the Office for Olivetti Employees' Homes, managed by Emilio 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 international culture were to have their first local fall-out.

The construction of the specific community in Ivrea was not linked to specific solutions, or to specific formal codes: if we abandon the easy slogans that see Adriano Olivetti as a lover first of "rationalist" then "organic" forms and the attention shifts onto individual objects, what can be observed is that every architecture in Ivrea, even perhaps the most symbolic of the place - such as the vetrato block of factories by Figini and Pollini - is more the stage of an autobiographic itinerary of the architect than an a priori formal choice.

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, between codes of conduct and ethics. To these architects Olivetti offers a first possibility to experiments a formal agenda and an ethic rule .


Culture as production: the birth of the Museum

The death of Adriano Olivetti interrupted the long period we have descripted. Despite the change of the industrial scene - the company was no longer run by the Olivetti family - the company maintained the high quality of its public image and products and the name was associated with important development in the architectural field, even if helps in assistence and public services were interrupted.

At the beginning of the 1990's the prospects of the company in Ivrea and Canavese completely altered. A productive and financial crisis of the firm began, which brought to the end of the Company himself just in these days.

An economic and cultural strategy based on a number of schemas was drawn up during the period from 1997 to the autumn of 1998 named Officine Culturali ICO, in which the term "Officine" (workshops) supported by the adjective "Culturali" (cultural) explicity evoked the city's link with the industrial past and with the Olivetti company's conception of the role of the industry in the society. In this programme one of the strategy proposed was the building of a Museum able to rebuild the memory of the place in the industrial cultural sense, i.e. to encourage appreciation of the local architecture as objects full of meaning for the history of the place and for the country in general and to transform this legacy in a resource to support the hidden vocation of the city and of the Canavese area in the field of the drawing up of projects and products for the study, conservation and management of cultural assets.

Museum consists of seven thematic sections along the public pedestrian riutes in order that might form the basis of a visit itinerary while beings strongly integrated with the urban landscape. The themes illustrated by the seven sections deal with the events related to Olivetti's commitment to architecture, town planning, industrial design and graphic art, and the cultural context within which events took place. And now, that the name of Olivetti deseappared from the international financial market, only the Museum and the Olivetti Archives in Ivrea maintein the memory of this cultural and industrial phenomena.

With the plan for the museum, an operative programme based on Regional Law 35/1995 was drawn up for the identification, safeguarding and turning to account of the architectural assets within the bounds of the Comune, in order to effect an overview of the building heritage and finalise adequate strategies to protect it.

The programme foresaw two distinct phases: a research one - through the consultation of numerous public and private archives, the identification of buildings "in the field", a brief evaluation of their state of preservation - and one of processing and testing of procedures for the protection of the buildings.

This research has led to the classification of over 200 recently built constructions within Ivrea's town borders.

The Comune accepted the suggestions coming from the catalogue and introduced in the new General Plan of Ivrea, presented in 2000, some new criteria for the identification of the historical part of the city: so modern architectures became part of the historical city for the first time in Italy.


August 2003

Draft copy
(Do not reproduce without permission of author)

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