Olivetti: Beyond Form And Function

The ICA is presenting a selection of photographs, films and ephemera relating to Italian manufacturing company Olivetti’s graphic, spatial design and architecture. Working in close collaboration with the Associazione Archivio Storico Olivetti, Ivrea – Italy and focusing largely on the industrial boom of the post-war era, the display will cover a key period in Olivetti’s history up until the 1960s, a time which saw the creation of the iconic Valentine typewriter and the company’s increasing move towards computer technologies.

Founded in 1908 as a typewriter manufacturing company by Camillo Olivetti in Ivrea, Italy, Olivetti is considered to be one of the leading manufacturing companies of the middle of the 20th century. Recognising the importance of design over pure functionalism, a concept largely owed to the founder’s son, Adriano Olivetti, the company went on to produce some of the most important and iconic hand-typing devices and early computers of the 20th century: from the Lettera 22 (1950) and Valentine (1969) typewriters, to the Elea 9003 (1959), Italy’s first computer, and the Programma 101 (1965), the first commercially produced desktop computer.


Olivetti’s innovative design ethos extended beyond its products: the advertisements, both graphic and on film, were considered pioneering for the ways in which they communicated complex, extensive information through a bold, simplified aesthetic. This was also seen through interior design and architecture, as observed in the company’s numerous showrooms and shop window displays which were conceptualised and transformed into unique installations. 


Throughout its history Olivetti commissioned numerous writers, designers, architects and artists: from Franco Fortini and Giovanni Giudici, who wrote many of the advertising slogans, to Gae Aulenti, BBPR, Louis Kahn, Le Corbusier, Costantino Nivola, and Carlo Scarpa who designed both offices and showrooms, and designers Walter Ballmer, Mario Bellini, Milton Glaser, Costantino Nivola, Marcello Nizzoli, Giovanni Pintori and Ettore Sottsass, as well as former Bauhaus students Herbert Bayer and Xanti Schawinsky. Each were involved in the creation of both advertisement campaigns and the products themselves. Recognising the need to integrate design into its business model, Olivetti established a graphic design department within the company in 1937, which was headed by Giovanni Pintori from 1940 until 1967. In creating a historical lineage of Olivetti’s design work from the mid-20th century, the display will show the progressive cultural ideals at the heart of the company’s ethos, a model which still resonates today.


The exhibition is presented in collaboration with Associazione Archivio Storico Olivetti, Ivrea – Italy and is part of the London Festival of Architecture 2016 and runs from the 25 May to the 17 July.

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