Olivetti, beyond the Company

 |  News

In Italy, at Ivrea, the complex of industrial buildings conceived and developed by Camillo Olivetti in 1908 for Olivetti, one of the most innovative firm of all times, has been added into the UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

The site included 27 buildings realized in 1896 and enlarged by Adriano Olivetti between 1939 and 1962, following the project of the most renowned Italian architects and city planners. The vast location hosted the “Study and Experience Center”, a thermoelectric power plant, a canteen, a nursery, ambulatories, Borgo Olivetti and Quartiere Castellamonte homes, two office buildings and an ancient residential unit located in the city center.

Adriano Olivetti, through his humanistic vision of work, tried to find an answer to the intensive industrialization process that didn’t consider the needs and the wellbeing of the employees. The intellectual-entrepreneur revolutionized the way of working, considering the people as the center of the production process, taking care of their personal, social and cultural conditions. He was also capable to have a constructive dialogue with the labor unions, thanks to the stimulating working environment, always focused on the company’s efficiency.

After the Second World War Olivetti was considered a multinational company able to compete with the United States and the most powerful European nations, a fact not so foregone for Italy. America played a foundamental role in Olivetti’s history: Camillo and Adriano went several times to U.S. to study the Taylor organization and to analyze the processes and technologies of the American factories. Furthermore, they learned the fundamental role of communication and advertising, indispensable to consolidate the brand identity and to help the consumers to better understand the products.

Adriano Olivetti all'interno della fabbrica osserva gli operai al lavoro

Olivetti was also one of the first companies to become a growth and developed engine for the entire society. For this reason, the Community Movement started by the brand, had a focus role on the programmatic politics adopted by the company. Adriano Olivetti evolved a cultural project where ethics and profits merge perfectly. “We deeply believe in the revolutionary power of culture” – said the entrepreneur – “The culture plays a preeminent role and when we look at the men, we know that every sacrifice is useless if we don’t elevate the human spirit”. Starting by the knowledge that culture creates value, he lived surrounded by poets, architects, artists and historians as Riccardo Musatti, Giorgio Soavi, Giovanni Giudici, Paolo Volponi, Ottiero Ottieri, Marcello Nizzoli, Figini e Pollini, Ettore Sottsass, only to name a few. Through their contagious imagination he created a HUB of ideas, aimed to re-think the factory as a place where material and spiritual culture can live together. He also created a library of more than 150 thousand books and an expo center where concerts and exhibitions were hosted regularly.

Adriano Olivetti extended his approach to every fields: editorial advertising, technological research, design, politics, ethics and social values. In particular, his attention to Architecture and City-planning made Italy the protagonist of the new trends of industrial architecture and every Olivetti branch is a demonstration of it: the Factory in Ivrea, designed by Figini and Pollini in 1934-35, the Guarulhos factory in Brazil designed by Architect Marco Zanuso (1956-61), the American Harrisburg headquarter realized by Louis Kahn in 1966-1970, the Training Center of Hasmelere in England by Stirling & Partners and the 1972’s Kenzo Tange’s laboratories and stores in Japan. Certainly it has to be mentioned the amazing realization of the Olivetti factory in Pozzuoli, with its offices overlooking the beautiful Gulf of Naples it represents a perfect union of nature and architecture.

Macchina da scrivere Olivetti con scocca rossa e tasti bianchi e neri

Olivetti, manufacturer of typewriters, mechanical calculators and office computers, has always focused on the development and elaboration of highly aesthetic and functional products, that soon became real design icons, today exhibited in the most renowned museums around the world. For example, the famous Lettera 22, that won the prize Compasso d’oro in 1954, the Valentine designed by Ettore Sottsass was easy to move thanks to its red plastic cover, the Divisumma series, realized with Mario Bellini’s sensitive skins, the 60s office furniture of Spazio series and the Sistema Arco developed in 1962 by BBPR Studio.

In 1952 Adriano Olivetti also started a research center in the United States, guided by the engineer Mario Tchou and his son Roberto. They launched on the market the first electronic calculator designed by Ettore Sottsass, the Elea 9003, making Olivetti the direct competitor of IBM. The sudden disappear of Adriano and the death of Tchou a year later arrested the rise of Olivetti, leaving the Americans alone in the race for technological innovation.

Written by Massimo Gianquitto

For further information:

La Stampa

Manolo De Giorgi, Enrico Morteo, Olivetti: una bella società, Catalogo della mostra per il centenario della nascita dell’azienda, Allemandi &C, 2008.

Marco Peroni – Riccardo Cecchetti, Adriano Olivetti un secolo troppo presto, Becco Gallo Srl. 2011, prima edizione.

Adriana Castagnoli, Essere impresa nel Mondo, Il Mulino  2012.