Showing posts with label Olivetti. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Olivetti. Show all posts

14 September 2018

Tiziano Terzani - journalist

Asia correspondent who covered wars in Vietnam and Cambodia

Tiziano Terzani spent 30 years working as a journalist in East Asia
Tiziano Terzani spent 30 years working
as a journalist in East Asia
The journalist and author Tiziano Terzani, who spent much of his working life in China, Japan and Southeast Asia and whose writing received critical acclaim both in his native Italy and elsewhere, was born on this day in 1938 in Florence.

He worked for more than 30 years for the German news magazine Der Spiegel, who took him on as Asia Correspondent in 1971, based in Singapore.

Although he wrote for other publications, including the Italian newspapers Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica, it was Der Spiegel who allowed him the freedom he craved. To a large extent he created his own news agenda but in doing so offered a unique slant on the major stories.

He was one of only a handful of western journalists who remained in Vietnam after the liberation of Saigon by the Viet Cong in 1975 and two years later, despite threats to his life, he reported from Phnom Penh in Cambodia after its capture by the Khmer Rouge.

He lived at different times in Beijing, Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok and New Delhi. His stay in China came to an end when he was arrested and expelled in 1984 for "counter-revolutionary activities".

By chance, in the summer of 1991, Terzani was on holiday in Siberia, exploring the region's boundary with China, when news of the coup against President Gorbachev reached him.

Terzani at first saw life in Asia as an  antidote to western capitalism
Terzani at first saw life in Asia as an
 antidote to western capitalism
Realising that the Russian empire was on the brink of collapse, he decided to stay in the country, embarking on a journey westwards that took him through Central Asia to the Caucasus, speaking to people about how they felt about what was happening and what they hoped for from the future. He wrote a book based on his experiences, Buonanotte, signor Lenin (Goodnight Mr Lenin), which was a bestseller.

Another book, another hit with Italian readers in particular, described how an encounter with a fortune teller in Hongkong persuaded Terzani to spend the whole of 1993 avoiding air travel - a huge challenge in a continent the size of Asia. Despite their scepticism, Der Spiegel again indulged him and for 12 months he travelled only by rail, road, on foot or by water.  It was a decision in which he felt vindicated when a helicopter he would have travelled on did indeed crash, as foreseen by his mystic soothsayer.

Terzani was born into a working-class family in Florence, a city he loved but at the same time despaired of for having allowed itself, in his eyes, to become an open-air museum, overrun with tourists.

Exceptionally intelligent - in time, he could speak five languages fluently - his teachers encouraged him to study law at the University of Pisa, where his room-mate was Giuliano Amato, a future Italian prime minister.

Tiziano Terzani, pictured on a visit to his homeland, Italy, in 2002
Tiziano Terzani, pictured on a visit
to his homeland, Italy, in 2002
After graduating, he worked for Olivetti, the office equipment manufacturer, in Japan and South Africa, enjoying the experience of being abroad but quickly becoming bored with the job. Interested in trying his hand at journalism, he sent a story to an Italian newspaper while working for Olivetti in Cape Town, about the assassination of Henrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid.

Terzani then decided to go to America, taking advantage of a Harkness scholarship to study Chinese at Stamford and Columbia universities, before returning to Italy and finding work with the daily newspaper, Il Giorno.  He found Italy’s news values to be too parochial, however, and after knocking on many doors in different countries across Europe at last found someone who would take him on and allow him to base himself in the part of the world he most wanted to explore.

Terzani’s fascination with Asia stemmed in part from his disillusionment with the capitalist west. Left-leaning in his politics, for a time he saw Asian communism as a kind of antidote.

He immersed himself in Asian culture, learning their languages, adopting their dress, melting into the crowd so that he could prowl about without attracting attention and grow to understand fully the countries and people about whom he was writing. In time, though, after his experiences in Vietnam, Cambodia and China, he came to realise that communism was no more an ideal than capitalism.

Terzani's book on the end of the Soviet  Union, Goodnight Mister Lenin
Terzani's book on the end of the Soviet
 Union, Goodnight Mister Lenin
Eventually, he decided the country and the people with whose values he would feel spiritually most at home was India, although the realisation coincided, unfortunately, with the discovery in 1997 that he was suffering from stomach cancer.

He was warned, initially, that he might have only a short time to live, but after treatment in the United States he survived, in the event, for seven years, finding the energy to carry on working and to campaign against western intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he visited after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Terzani remained in India, where he drew comfort from meditation and spending periods in isolation in the Himalayas, returning to Italy only towards the end of his life and spending his final days in Orsigna, a village in the Apennines, near Pistoia.  His book, Un altro giro di giostra (One More Ride on the Merry-Go-Round), which was in part about coming to terms with his illness, was another bestseller.

He died in 2004 and was survived by his wife Angela, whom he had met in Florence before moving to Singapore, and by his two children, Fulco and Saskia.

Piazza della Signoria - the Loggia dei Lanzi
Piazza della Signoria - the Loggia dei Lanzi
Travel tip:

Terzani’s description of Florence as a museum was thought to be a reference mostly to Piazza della Signoria, situated right in the heart of the city, close to the Duomo and the Uffizi Gallery, which is home to a series of important sculptures, including Giambologna’s The Rape of the Sabine Women and his Equestrian Monument of Cosimo I, Baccio Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus, the Medici Lions by Fancelli and Vacca, The Fountain of Neptune by Bartolemeo Ammannati, copies of Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes and Il Marzocco (the Lion), and the copy of Michelangelo’s David, at the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio.  Most days, summer and winter, will see the square thronged with tourists.

The mountain village of Orsigna, in the Apennines above Pistoia in Tuscany
The mountain village of Orsigna, in the Apennines
above Pistoia in Tuscany
Travel tip:

The village of Orsigna, close to the border of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna about 30km (19 miles) north of Pistoia, was once an important centre for timber cutting and sheep farming. It has been in decline in recent years, although a mill has recently been renovated, for the drying and milling of chestnuts for chestnut flour.  The village was used  for location shooting of a film about Tiziano Terzani , entitled La fine è il mio inizio (The End Is My Beginning), taken from his book of the same name. The church of Sant'Atanasio has some 19th century frescoes by the Pistoia painter Bartolomeo Valiani.

More reading:

How foreign correspondent Oriana Fallaci became one of Italy's most controversial journalists

How Enzo Biagi became the doyen of Italian political journalists

The story of pioneer war photographer Felice Beato

Also on this day:

1321: The death of the poet Dante Alighieri

1937: The birth of award-winning architect Renzo Piano


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 façade 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


4 December 2017

Gae Aulenti – architect

Designer who made mark in Italy and abroad

Gae Aulenti forged a career in design when female architects were rare
Gae Aulenti forged a career in design
when female architects were rare
The architect Gae Aulenti, who blazed a trail for women in the design world in post-War Italy and went on to enjoy a career lasting more than half a century, was born on this day in 1927 in Palazzolo dello Stella, a small town about midway between Venice and Trieste.

In a broad and varied career, among a long list of clients Aulenti designed showrooms for Fiat and Olivetti, furniture for Zanotta, department stores for La Rinascente, a railway station in Milan, stage sets for theatre and opera director Luca Ronconi and villas for wealthy private clients.

She lectured at the Venice and Milan Schools of Architecture and was on the editorial staff of the design magazine, Casabella.

Yet she is best remembered for her part in transforming redundant buildings facing possible demolition into museums and galleries, her most memorable project being the interior of the Beaux Arts-style Gare d'Orsay railway station in Paris, where she turned the cavernous central hall, a magnificent shed lit by arching rooflights, into a minimalist exhibition space for impressionist art.

Aulenti also created galleries at the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Palau Nacional in Barcelona as well as turning San Francisco’s Beaux Art Main Library into a Museum of Asian Art.

The frontage of Milan's Cadorna railway station was restored in 1999 to a design by Gae Aulenti
The frontage of Milan's Cadorna railway station was
restored in 1999 to a design by Gae Aulenti
She restored Milan’s Cadorna railway station and the adjoining square, oversaw the expansion of Perugia Airport and designed six stores for the American fashion designer Adrienne Vittadini, including one on Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles.

Aulenti was born Gaetana Aulenti in Palazzolo dello Stella, in the region of Fruili-Venezia Giulia, a town through which the Stella river passes a few kilometres north of the Laguna di Marano.  At home, she read and learned the piano and it was because her parents had no ambitions for her beyond finding an eligible husband that she was determined to forge her own path in life.  She went to Milan and enrolled at the Milan School of Architecture at the Polytechnic University.

When she graduated, one of only two women in a class of 20, she set up a private practice in Milan and joined the staff of Casabella magazine.

She became part of a Neo-Liberty movement, reacting against the growing dominance of modernism and arguing for a revival of local building traditions and individual expression.

Piazza Gae Aulenti is part of Porta Nuova Garibaldi renovation project near Milan's main railway station
Piazza Gae Aulenti is part of Porta Nuova Garibaldi
renovation project in central Milan
Aulenti's distinctive outlook soon attracted clients, among them Gianni Agnelli, chairman of the Fiat empire, for which she designed showrooms in Turin, Zurich and Brussels. Agnelli became a close friend and when Fiat bought the rundown Palazzo Grassi on the Grand Canal in Venice, he commissioned her to renovate the building as an exhibition space. She also built a ski lodge for Agnelli in St Moritz.

For Olivetti she created shop windows for showrooms in Paris and Buenos Aires, where with the skilful use of mirrored steps she produced a display of typewriters that wrapped around a street corner and appeared to multiply infinitely.

During the 1960s and 70s, Aulenti designed furniture for many of Milan's major design houses, including Knoll, Zanotta and Kartell, as well as lighting for Artemide, Stilnovo and Martinelli Luce. Her folding chair made from stainless steel and a coffee table made from a thick square of glass supported on four black casters have found their way into museums of modern art.

Her major breakthrough came in 1980, when she was chosen to design the new interior of the Gare d’Orsay, where she tore out the majority of the building’s interior features, in their place creating airy galleries that preserved the original Beaux-Arts features of the old railway station while offering a modern environment in which to give the collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces maximum impact.

The main hall of the Orsay Museum in Paris
The main hall of the Orsay Museum in Paris
In 1997, Aulenti refurbished the dilapidated Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome, transforming the former stables into an exhibition space.

She left her mark on Milan, which became her adopted home city, with the restoration of the Cadorna railway station in 1999. 

Aulenti died in 2012, a few weeks short of what would have been her 85th birthday, having been in failing health for some time.

Two months later, a modern circular piazza at the heart of the Porta Nuova Garibaldi development next to the Porta Garibaldi railway station, featuring a continuous flowing circle of seating surrounding a vast reflecting pool, 60 metres in diameter, was named Gae Aulenti Piazza in her memory.

The Scuderie del Quirinale was restored by Aulenti in 1999
The Scuderie del Quirinale was restored by Aulenti in 1999
Travel tip:

The Scuderie del Quirinale is a palace in Rome situated in front of the Palazzo del Quirinale, official residence of the President of the Republic. It was built between 1722 and 1732, commissioned by Pope Innocent XIII. It maintained its original function as a stable until 1938, when it was adapted to a garage. In the 1980s it was transformed into a museum of carriages. It was restored by Gae Aulenti in time for the 2000 Jubilee and inaugurated by President Azeglio Ciampi.

Aulenti was commissioned by her friend Gianni Agnelli to restore Palazzo Grassi after it was acquired by Fiat
Aulenti was commissioned by her friend Gianni Agnelli
to restore Palazzo Grassi after it was acquired by Fiat
Travel tip:

The Palazzo Grassi – sometimes known as the Palazzo Grassi-Stucky – was designed by Giorgio Massari in the Venetian Classical style and built between 1748 and 1772. It is located on the Grand Canal, between the Palazzo Moro Lin and the Campo San Samuele.  It has a formal palace façade, constructed of white marble, but lacks the lower mercantile openings typical of many Venetian palaces.  After it was sold by the Grassi family in 1840, the ownership passed through many individuals until it was bought by the Fiat Group in 1983, at a time when there was talk of it being demolished. Restored by Gae Aulenti, it is now owned by the French entrepreneur François Pinault, who exhibits his personal art collection there.