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Olivetti Builds: Modern Architecture in Ivrea [Paperback]

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Item description for Olivetti Builds: Modern Architecture in Ivrea by Patrizia Bonifazio & Paolo Scrivano...

The Olivetti company is known chiefly in the United States as a manufacturer of typewriters and calculators that has grown into one of the leading European telecommunications companies. What is less well known is how progressive the company was as a sponsor of modern architecture and urban planning in postwar Italy. Starting in the 1930s, Adriano Olivetti, the son of the founder, became a kind of modern day Medici of modern architecture and urban planning, relocating the company to Ivrea, outside Turin and embarking on an ambitious program of carefully planned development. These efforts attracted the top architects in Italy and created a unique relationship between a company and the architectural firms that worked for it, producing what is today a virtual open air architecture and urban planning museum in the town of Ivrea. This volume chronicles, through photographs, sketches, plans and archival documents, the development of this unique relationship between commerce, community and architecture that is one of the finest examples of planned development in the twentieth century.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Skira
Pages   192
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.75" Width: 6.25" Height: 8.5"
Weight:   1 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   May 17, 2002
Publisher   Skira
ISBN  8881187426  
ISBN13  9788881187423  

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1Books > Subjects > Professional & Technical > Architecture > Architects, A-Z > General
2Books > Subjects > Professional & Technical > Architecture > Building Types & Styles > General
3Books > Subjects > Professional & Technical > Architecture > General
4Books > Subjects > Professional & Technical > Architecture > Reference

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When the Typewriter was King  Feb 15, 2009
Barely half a century ago, the office was a much different place. An executive could run a worldwide corporation and never learn how to type a letter, proposal or contract. That was the job of the secretary and while companies like Smith Corona, Royal and IBM dominated the typewriter and office machine market in the USA, the rest of the world belonged to Olivetti.

What began in a red brick building in Ivrea, Italy would eventually become an empire that touched nearly every continent. But like many typewriter makers, Olivetti wasn't ready for the changes that began in the garages of northern California's computer hobbyists. Today Olivetti is a subsidiary of Telecom Italia and has become a trademark affixed to calculators, computer printers, copiers, fax machines and banking equipment. The only Olivetti-branded product you can buy in the USA is a typewriter from China that's sold by former rival Royal.

What makes Olivetti special is what the company left behind in Ivrea and all over the world, including the USA. Adriano Olivetti, son of founder Camillo, rose to power in the company and immediately began a program of design, architecture and social services that made Olivetti THE place to work. If you worked for Olivetti in Ivrea during the middle of the 20th century, your children would most likely attend an Olivetti-built school and if you felt like a night at the movies, you went to the theater at Social Services, right across Via Jervis from the factory. Many employees lived in housing built or financed by Olivetti. In the USA, Olivetti manufactured Olivetti and Underwood typewriters, the Programma 101 desktop computer and copiers at a factory in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania designed by the iconic Louis Kahn. The company was still building new offices all the way into the late 1980s.

Olivetti tiptoed into the personal computer market but just couldn't get it right. They were quickly bowled over by the rest of the industry and the town of Ivrea felt it first. The world was buying fewer typewriters and mechanical adding machines while Olivetti's competitors began producing personal computers in Asia and Mexico. As manufacturing dried up, the city government pondered what to do. Wisely, their solution preserves Olivetti's architectural legacy: turn the streets into an open-air museum and encourage the current owners and tenants to take good care of the architectural gems they live and work in. Students of architecture and industrial design now flock to Ivrea. The sprawling ICO (Ing. Camillo Olivetti) factory has made a successful transition into a multi-use building. True, not as many jobs were created as were lost but Ivrea still has something to be proud of.

"Olivetti Builds" is the English translation of the official guidebook of Museo a cielo aperto dell'Architettura Moderna di Ivrea (Open-Air Museum of Modern Architecture in Ivrea). The book combines a concise history of the company with archival photos of Olivetti's buildings, including those in places like Brazil, Germany, Japan and the USA. The seven chapters follow the layout of the museum's information stations along the paved walking path that takes visitors past the original and expanded ICO factory, the Social Services center (now the museum's guest center), the former Study and Design Center, the stunning Palazzo Uffici 1 and 2 and finally past the remarkable Residential Unit West (a/k/a Talponia or Mole City because each apartment's front door is underground). Hop back into your rental car and take in Olivetti's grand finale, the typewriter-shaped Residential and Social Services East nicknamed La Serra.

The book contains an editorial flub that mars its historical accuracy. The chapter on design and corporate image misidentifies an advertising poster as the Olivetti Studio 42 typewriter, considered by many as one of Olivetti's most significant product designs. The illustration is actually Xanti Schawinsky's poster for Olivetti's first portable typewriter, the MP1. Your humble reader would also have welcomed a greater number of contemporary photos, but I guess that would be redundant if you're taking the walking tour.

Still, "Olivetti Builds" is a fascinating story of how one man, Adriano Olivetti sought to enhance the way people work and live only to have it all swept away by the tides of change. Olivetti's legacy is in the loving care of the people of Ivrea, a town at the top of my "Once Before I Die" list.

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