The UNESCO series: Ivrea, industrial city of the XXth century

When we think about UNESCO sites, our mind suddenly goes to extraordinary works of arts, such as palaces or cathedrals (for example the Colosseum in Rome, the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Palace or Versailles and so on) or to exceptionally beautiful natural sites such as the Dolomites in Northern Italy, Uluru in Australia, the Grand Canyon in the USA. However the mission of Unesco is that of protecting all those sites, around the world, that have a specific and very high value for the world culture, which is to say that anything that may have an impact on the way we understand history, culture, art and society should be protected and shared.

For such a reason, among the Unesco sites worldwide, we do not only find villas and palaces or scenic views but also a set of man made sites, that are of exceptional value for other reasons, including the societal changes of the past decades, which is the case of the city of Ivrea.

Despite being a very beautiful town, founded by the Romans (whose trace are still today visible in the roman bridge over the Dora Baltea river) under the name Eporedia, and despite being the birth place of Arduino, a man who was crowned the first king of Italy in 1002 (whose castle is still towering on the hill above the city), Ivrea has been a hub of the modern industrial production for a long period of time, spanning from the early 1900s up to the 1980s. Many city have an industrial past so why should Ivrea count more than others? The Unesco Committee provides us with the response.

Ivrea, Industrial City of the XXth Century

Ivrea, the Castle of king Arduino. Photo from the web

The industrial city of Ivrea is located in the Piedmont region and developed as the testing ground for Olivetti, manufacturer of typewriters, mechanical calculators and office computers. It comprises a large factory and buildings designed to serve the administration and social services, as well as residential units. Designed by leading Italian urban planners and architects, mostly between the 1930s and the 1960s, this architectural ensemble reflects the ideas of the Community Movement (Movimento Comunità). A model social project, Ivrea expresses a modern vision of the relationship between industrial production and architecture.

Talponia Residential Units- Ivrea. Photo from the web

The Olivetti Adventure

Founded in 1908 by Camillo Olivetti, the Industrial City of Ivrea is an industrial and socio-cultural project of the 20th century. The Olivetti Company manufactured typewriters, mechanical calculators and desktop computers. Ivrea represents a model of the modern industrial city and a response to the challenges posed by rapid industrial change. It is therefore able to exhibit a response and a contribution to 20th century theories of urbanism and industrialisation. Ivrea’s urban form and buildings were designed by some of the best-known Italian architects and town-planners of the period from the 1930s to the 1960s, under the direction of Adriano Olivetti. The city is comprised of buildings for manufacturing, administration, social services and residential uses, reflecting the ideas of the Movimento Comunità (Community Movement) which was founded in Ivrea in 1947 based on Adriano Olivetti’s 1945 book l’Ordine politico delle Comunità (The Political Order of Communities). The industrial city of Ivrea therefore represents a significant example of 20th century theories of urban development and architecture in response to industrial and social transformations, including the transition from mechanical to digital industries.

Ivrea – Canteen and recreational centre. Photo from the web

The industrial city of Ivrea is an ensemble of outstanding architectural quality that represents the work of Italian modernist designers and architects and demonstrates an exceptional example of 20th century developments in the design of production, taking into account changing industrial and social needs. Ivrea represents one of the first and highest expressions of a modern vision in relation to production, architectural design and social aspects at a global scale in relation to the history of industrial construction, and the transition from mechanical to digitalised industrial technologies.

The attributes of the property are: the spatial plan of the industrial city, the public buildings and spaces, and residential buildings developed by Olivetti (including their extant interior elements). The influences of the Community Movement on the provision of buildings for residential and social purposes is an important intangible element, although the functions of most non-residential buildings have ceased.

The authenticity of Ivrea is based on the high number and quality of urban and architectural projects that date to the primary period of Ivrea’s development as an industrial city. A detailed analysis of the individual components in terms of their form, design and materials, and their location and immediate environment has been undertaken, and many elements have maintained their original characteristics in spite of the changes to production that affected the city during the last two decades. While many residential, administrative and services buildings are intact, others have been renovated; and a large number of the buildings are currently vacant, with an uncertain future. There is a risk of gradual loss of the authenticity of the property due to large-scale refurbishment proposals, decay of the exterior finishing of the facades and deterioration of the interior decoration and detailing. Efforts have been made to develop new uses that are similar in type to their original uses (such as telecommunications, production or cultural activities).

Ivrea the former wood workshop. Photo from the web

Although the Unesco enlisting made Ivrea pretty popular among the visitors to northern Italy, do not forget that the City is called “La Bella” (the Beautiful) since the Romasn times. Therefore beside the industrail heritage allow yourself the time to explore the city centres, which offers you an incredible opportunity to discover a lot a bout the roman way of living, the medieval traditions (such as the battle of the Oranges, at carnival time) as well as neoclassic and liberty stile building along the Dora Baltea River.

Ivrea is located in the north west of Italy, along the Highway between Torino and Aosta (approximately 35/40 minutes from Torino), at the bottom of the Alps.

If you need more info about the industrial heritage of Ivrea, visit the official website here

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