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Living with technology without neglecting the human element

A new book revisits Adriano Olivetti’s story with a different approach

All-round culture, even in factories. Adriano Olivetti’s Olivetti is certainly the most classic example of this. A legendary factory and company that almost assumes a different guise depending on who is describing it. It’s an experience worth knowing about in depth, not to judge but to understand it, without distortion. That’s why you should read Memoria imperfetta. La comunità Olivetti e il mondo nuovo (Imperfect Memory. The Olivetti community and the new world), written with passion by Antonella Tarpino. She’s a historian and essayist, but in this case, above all, she’s “an Olivetti child,” the daughter of a company employee who experienced the Olivetti environment directly. During the company’s prime years in Ivrea, this left varying impressions on workers, intellectuals, employees and people of culture, as well as on those who were just children at the time. In the two hundred or so pages written by Tarpino, we see an unprecedented, complex and certainly not easy interpretation of Olivettian corporate culture, which was later propagated throughout the industrial world.

The author writes with a style that requires great attention. She combines memories (not only from her childhood) with first-hand accounts from the protagonists of those times and other information found in the immense Olivettian literature. The result is a book which seamlessly combines the distant past, the near past and the present. The protagonists are many, from Adriano Olivetti to Paolo Volponi, Ludovico Zorzi to Ottiero Ottieri, Geno Pampaloni, Giorgio Soavi and many others, as well as teams of architects and urban planners. There are also places, like Via Jervis, the H Workshop and the white Olivetti houses, the design furniture in those houses as well as in the offices (not to mention work objects/tools such as Divisumma, Program 101 and Lettera 32).

The book begins with a “portrait of a group of children”, continues with an “anthropological” examination of the Olivettian community culture and then goes on to take a deeper look at the period by means of some novels and short stories, followed by a reasoned argument about the Olivetti-style and two experiences far from Ivrea (Matera and Pozzuoli). Everything revolves around the concept of New (capitalised on purpose), which “survived because it continues to ask us questions, rather than giving real answers”, writes Antonella Tarpino in the last pages; she then sums everything up in a sentence: “Living with technology in ways that don’t neglect the human element.”.

Antonella Tarpino’s book is not an easy one, but certainly worth reading to the end.

Memoria imperfetta. La comunità Olivetti e il mondo nuovo (Imperfect memory. The Olivetti community and the new world)

Antonella Tarpino

Einaudi, 2020

A new book revisits Adriano Olivetti’s story with a different approach

All-round culture, even in factories. Adriano Olivetti’s Olivetti is certainly the most classic example of this. A legendary factory and company that almost assumes a different guise depending on who is describing it. It’s an experience worth knowing about in depth, not to judge but to understand it, without distortion. That’s why you should read Memoria imperfetta. La comunità Olivetti e il mondo nuovo (Imperfect Memory. The Olivetti community and the new world), written with passion by Antonella Tarpino. She’s a historian and essayist, but in this case, above all, she’s “an Olivetti child,” the daughter of a company employee who experienced the Olivetti environment directly. During the company’s prime years in Ivrea, this left varying impressions on workers, intellectuals, employees and people of culture, as well as on those who were just children at the time. In the two hundred or so pages written by Tarpino, we see an unprecedented, complex and certainly not easy interpretation of Olivettian corporate culture, which was later propagated throughout the industrial world.

The author writes with a style that requires great attention. She combines memories (not only from her childhood) with first-hand accounts from the protagonists of those times and other information found in the immense Olivettian literature. The result is a book which seamlessly combines the distant past, the near past and the present. The protagonists are many, from Adriano Olivetti to Paolo Volponi, Ludovico Zorzi to Ottiero Ottieri, Geno Pampaloni, Giorgio Soavi and many others, as well as teams of architects and urban planners. There are also places, like Via Jervis, the H Workshop and the white Olivetti houses, the design furniture in those houses as well as in the offices (not to mention work objects/tools such as Divisumma, Program 101 and Lettera 32).

The book begins with a “portrait of a group of children”, continues with an “anthropological” examination of the Olivettian community culture and then goes on to take a deeper look at the period by means of some novels and short stories, followed by a reasoned argument about the Olivetti-style and two experiences far from Ivrea (Matera and Pozzuoli). Everything revolves around the concept of New (capitalised on purpose), which “survived because it continues to ask us questions, rather than giving real answers”, writes Antonella Tarpino in the last pages; she then sums everything up in a sentence: “Living with technology in ways that don’t neglect the human element.”.

Antonella Tarpino’s book is not an easy one, but certainly worth reading to the end.

Memoria imperfetta. La comunità Olivetti e il mondo nuovo (Imperfect memory. The Olivetti community and the new world)

Antonella Tarpino

Einaudi, 2020