Showing posts with label Ivrea. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ivrea. Show all posts

13 August 2018

Camillo Olivetti - electrical engineer

Founder of Italy’s first typewriter factory

Camillo Olivetti in 1930, at around the time he handed the reins to son Adriano
Camillo Olivetti in 1930, at around the
time he handed the reins to son Adriano
The electrical engineer Camillo Olivetti, who opened Italy’s first typewriter factory and founded a company that would become a major player in electronic business technology, was born on this day in 1868 in Ivrea in Piedmont.

The Olivetti company that later produced Italy’s first electronic computer was developed by Adriano Olivetti, the oldest of Camillo's five children, but it was his father’s vision and enterprise that laid the foundations for the brand’s success and established the Olivetti name.

Camillo came from a Jewish middle-class background. His father, Salvador Benedetto, was a successful merchant. His mother, Elvira, came from a banking family in Modena but her interests were more cultural. She was fluent in four languages.

Elvira had full care of Camillo after Salvador died when the boy was only one and sent him to boarding school in Milan at a young age.  Although his mother’s fluency in four languages was a help - he learned English early in his life - she understood his inclination to work in electronics.

After graduating from the Royal Italian Industrial Museum (later the Polytechnic of Turin) with a diploma in industrial engineering, Camillo broadened his knowledge by travelling. He spent more than a year in London working in an industry that produced electrical instrumentation and later went to the United States with his former university professor, Galileo Ferraris, who in Chicago in 1893 introduced him to his hero, Thomas Edison.

The first Olivetti typewriter, the M1, which Camillo designed himself for production at the Ivrea factory
The first Olivetti typewriter, the M1, which Camillo
designed himself for production at the Ivrea factory
Olivetti remained in the United States after Ferraris returned to Italy, taking up a position as electrotechnical assistant at Stanford University. 

Back in Italy in 1894, he teamed up with a couple of old college friends in his first business venture, importing typewriters, before deciding to go into production with a factory making electrical measuring instruments, entering into partnership with a number of investors.

The business grew, moving to factories in Milan and then Monza to enable increased production, but Olivetti had disagreements with his investors over how much of their budget should be spent on research, so the venture ended.

Taking 40 workers with him, he then moved back to Ivrea and, in 1908, opened the first dedicated Olivetti typewriter factory, a distinctive building in local Canavese red brick.

The original red brick factory was retained when Olivetti built new modern premises in Via Jervis in Ivrea
The original red brick factory was retained when Olivetti
built new modern premises in Via Jervis in Ivrea
The first typewriter produced - from 1911 onwards - was the M1, which Olivetti designed himself based on the knowledge he had acquired in the United States.

At first, production was on a relatively small scale - about 1,000 machines per year - and the business began to grow exponentially only after the First World War, when Olivetti shrewdly diversified into aircraft parts, which were technologically advanced and therefore in constant demand.

When life returned to normal after the war, Olivetti was well placed to expand and developed a much improved typewriter, the M20.  His business model, visionary at the time, included setting up Olivetti branches in Milan and then other Italian cities - and eventually abroad - to provide assistance to customers at local level.

Throughout much of his life, Camillo Olivetti was active politically. As a young man, a socialist by inclination, he was appalled by the what he saw as contempt for working people by the ruling classes and travelled to Milan in 1898 to take part in the so-called bread riots, when soldiers opened fire on protesters, resulting in 500 deaths. Angered by what he had seen, he considered raising his own armed force with the intention of stirring up revolution.

Adriano Olivetti shared his father's vision and concerns for the workforce and the local community
Adriano Olivetti shared his father's vision and concerns
for the workforce and the local community
He was dissuaded from such drastic action but spent much of his life campaigning, mainly through newspaper columns, on the side of the working man.  When the Fascists rose to power, he became an outspoken critic of Mussolini’s regime, taking part in a protest in Ivrea in 1924 following the murder of the socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti.

He scaled down his activities only when he began to fear Fascist reprisals against his factory in Ivrea. At one stage, after Mussolini introduced his race laws, Camillo had his family flee the country for their own safety.

Although he was a businessman foremost, he recognised the need for good relationships between employers and workers and supported the establishment of trade unions.

Olivetti would become a famous name worldwide, well-known for its technical excellence and modern designs as Camillo and later Adriano employed many famous designers and architects to work on their products and publicity campaigns, including Ignazio Gardella and Marco Zanuso.

But the company would also be admired for consistent social welfare policies. When Adriano became chairman of the company in 1938, he increases production to around 15,000 machines per year but at the same time, as the town’s biggest employer, instigated projects that would change the face of Ivrea, building schools, houses, roads and recreational facilities.

Camillo died at the age of 75 in 1943, having moved to Biella, not far from the border with Switzerland, in the 1930s because of the anti-Jewish political climate further south.

Ivrea's cathedral, with its neoclassical facade
Ivrea's cathedral, with its neoclassical facade
Travel tip:

Ivrea, where Camillo Olivetti was born and established his business, is a town in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, about 50km (31 miles) north of Turin. It has a 14th century castle and the ruins of a 1st century Roman theatre that would have been able to hold 10,000 spectators. The town’s cathedral, which originated from a church built on the same site in 4th century, itself at the site of a pagan temple, was reconstructed in around 1000 AD in Romanesque style and, in 1785, rebuilt again in a Baroque style. The current neoclassical fa├žade was added in the 19th century. Ivrea hosts an annual carnival before Easter, which includes the Battle of the Oranges, where teams of locals on foot throw oranges at teams riding in carts.

The Palazzo Cisterna in Biella
The Palazzo Cisterna in Biella
Travel tip:

Biella, which sits in the foothill of the Alps, is about 85km (53 miles) northeast of Turin and slightly more than 100km (62 miles) west of Milan. It is surrounded by beautiful mountains and divided into two districts - Biella-Piano and Biella-Piazzo, which are connected to each other by steep streets and a funicular railway. Biella-Piazzo, the Medieval district, is dominated by the magnificent Palazzo Cisterna. Biella-Piano is the home of the Duomo, the pre-Romanesque Baptistery and a museum of Biellese history.

More reading:

Ignazio Gardella - the modern designer with an eye for the classical

Marco Zanuso, architect and designer who put Italy at the forefront of contemporary design

How Karl Zuegg turned the family farm into an international company

Also on this day:

1819: The birth of Risorgimento activist Aurelio Saffi

1912: The birth of award-winning microbiologist Salvador Luria


30 March 2017

Ignazio Gardella – architect

Modernist who created Venetian classic

The architect Ignazio Gardella
The architect Ignazio Gardella
The engineer and architect Ignazio Gardella, considered one of the great talents of modern urban design in Italy, was born on this day in 1905 in Milan.

He represented the fourth generation in a family of architects and his destiny was determined at an early age. He graduated in civil engineering in Milan in 1931 and architecture in Venice in 1949.

Gardella designed numerous buildings during an active career that spanned almost six decades, including the Antituberculosis Dispensary in Alessandria, which is considered one of the purest examples of Italian Rationalism, and the Casa alle Zattere on the Giudecca Canal in Venice, in which he blended modernism with classical style in a way that has been heralded as genius.

During his university years, he made friends with many young architects from the Milan area and together they created the Modern Italian Movement.

He worked with his father, Arnaldo, on a number of projects while still studying.  On graduating, he set up an office in Milan, although he spent a good part of his early career travelling, sometimes with a commission but at other times to study.

Gardella's Casa delle Zattere in Venice
Gardella's Casa delle Zattere in Venice
He expanded his knowledge and ideas by visiting Germany, Finland, Sweden and Norway before the Second World War.  After the conflict he travelled to the USA, Greece, France and Spain.

During the 1930s, Gardella designed both the Antituberculosis Dispensary and the Provincial Laboratory of Hygiene in Alessandria. The first building is considered one of the purest examples of Italian Rationalism.

The bulk of his work came as Italy rebuilt in the 1940s and 1950s, although he was still working even into his 80s and 90s, when he designed a new Faculty of Architecture for the University of Genoa and collaborated with a number of architects in renovating the Teatro San Felice in the same city.

He also worked with his son, Iacopo, on building a new railway station, Milano Lambrate, with its distinctive rounded copper roof.

Gardella is best remembered, though, for the projects he undertook in the post-War years, including the Case Borsalino apartments in Alessandria, the PAC (Padiglione Arte Contemporanea) in the Villa Reale in Milan, which Gardella rebuilt, without payment, after it was badly damaged in an explosion in 1996, the Olivetti Dining Hall at their factory in Ivrea and, in particular for the Casa alle Zattere in the Dorsoduro district of Venice, built between 1953 and 1958.

The Olivetti Dining Hall at Ivrea
The Olivetti Dining Hall at Ivrea
The building, again built as apartments, is one of the finest examples of Italian post-war Modernism coming to terms with its historical surroundings, a triumph for Gardella given that few architects are given the chance to build in Venice and none wants to leave something detrimental to its appearance.

The linear components of Casa alle Zettere are unmistakably contemporary, yet Gardella’s careful selection and manipulation of architectural elements and their subsequent assembly in a well thought-out scheme allowed him to create something that perfectly complements the surrounding buildings, even down to the church of Santo Spirito next door, and would not look out of place among the palaces on the Grand Canal.

Away from architecture, Gardella was an influential figure in interior design, starting as early as 1947, when he founded the Azucena Agency with Luigi Caccia Dominioni, designing primarily decorative furniture.

Gardella, who won numerous prizes for his work, also had an important academic career as a professor at IUAV – the architectural university in Venice. He died in Oleggio, a town about 60km north-west of Milan adjoining the Ticino national park, in 1999.

The Casa alle Zattere has the appearance of a palace
The Casa alle Zattere has the appearance of a palace
Travel tip:

The Casa alle Zattere can be found on Fondamenta Zattere allo Santo Spirito between Calle Zucchero and Calle larga della Chiesa in the Dorsoduro quarter of Venice, looking out over the Giudecca Canal towards the Giudecca island, almost directly opposite Palladio’s striking white marble church, the Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore, built to commemorate the plague of 1575-76, which claimed more than a quarter of the population of the city.

Travel tip:

The town of Oleggio in Piedmont sits next to the Park of the Ticino, an area of just under 100,000 hectares situated largely in Lombardy but straddling the border of its neighbouring region.  A beautiful area of rivers and streams, moorlands, conifer forests and wetlands, it is home to almost 5,000 species of fauna, flora and mushrooms, as well as a variety of wildlife, from the purple herons, white storks and mallards that populate the waterways to sparrowhawks and peregrine falcons, tawny and long-eared owls, rabbits, foxes, squirrels and stone martens.

More reading:

Giovanni Michelucci - the man who created Florence's 'motorway church'

How Marco Zanuso put Italy at the forefront of contemporary style

What Milan owes to Ulisse Stacchini

Also on this day:

1282: Sicilians rise up against the French

(Picture credits: Top picture from WhipArt archive)


10 February 2016

Ernesto Teodoro Moneta – Nobel Prize winner

Supporter of Garibaldi was also an ‘apostle for peace’

Moneta was a supporter of Garibaldi but also a pacifist
Ernesto Teodoro Moneta
Ernesto Teodoro Moneta, who was at times both a soldier and a pacifist, died on this day in 1918.

Moneta was only 15 when he was involved in the Five Days of Milan uprising against the Austrians in 1848, but in later life he became a peace activist.

He won the Nobel Peace prize in 1907, but publicly supported Italy’s entry into the First World War in 1915. On the Nobel Prize official website he is described as ‘a militant pacifist’.

Moneta was born in 1833 to aristocratic parents in Milan. He fought next to his father to defend his family home during the revolt against the Austrians and then went on to attend the military academy in Ivrea.

In 1859 Moneta joined Garibaldi’s Expedition of the Thousand and fought in the Italian army against the Austrians in 1866.

He then seemed to become disillusioned with the struggle for Italian unification and cut short what had been a promising military career.

For nearly 30 years Moneta was editor of the Milan democratic newspaper, Il Secolo. Through the columns of his newspaper he campaigned vigorously for reforms to the army which would strengthen it and reduce waste and inefficiency.

During this time Moneta also wrote his work Wars, Insurrection and Peace in the 19th Century, in which he describes the development of the international peace movement.

He wrote articles for pamphlets and periodicals and gave lectures campaigning for peace. In 1887 he founded the Lombard Association for Peace and Arbitration, which called for disarmament.

Alongside Louis Renault, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1907.

But Moneta’s Italian patriotism led him to support the Italian conquest of Libya in 1912 and later publicly express his agreement with Italy’s entry into the First World War.

Travel tip:

There is a monument to Moneta in the Porta Venezia Gardens in Milan. The inscription reads: ‘Ernesto Teodoro Moneta, garibaldine, thinker, journalist, apostle of peace among free people.’  The gardens are the largest public park in the city and a rare area of greenery in Milan. They are next to the Bastioni di Porta Venezia, part of the walls built to defend Milan in the 16th century.

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The Battle of the Oranges in Ivrea is a carnival tradition
The Battle of the Oranges in Ivrea, in which fighting
can be particularly intense. 
Travel tip:

Ivrea, where Moneta attended a military academy, is a town in the province of Turin in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. It has a 14th century castle and the ruins of a first century Roman theatre that would have been able to hold 10,000 spectators. During the annual carnival before Easter, Ivrea stages the Battle of the Oranges, where teams of locals on foot throw oranges at teams riding in carts.