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Ivrea, industrial city of the 20th century

Date of Submission: 03/05/2012
Criteria: (ii)(iv)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Italy to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Ref.: 5736
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Viale Jervis Axis N45 27 26.15 E7 52 13.92

Borgo Olivetti N45 27 39.57 E7 52 23.11

The industrial city of Ivrea was built in the years between 1930 and 1960 by Adriano Olivetti, according to an alternative design to the national and international experiences implemented during the 20th century, which were developed in accordance with two different models: on one hand, company towns such as Crespi d’Adda, on the other, industrial systems that were developed in major urban conurbations and that had an impressing effect on social processes along with their production policies. The city of Ivrea is an exceptional example both in terms of the quality of the solutions proposed and of the methods of their implementation.

The candidacy that we intend to propose is of the serial type, and consists in all the creations associated with Adriano Olivetti’s industrial and socio-cultural project. It consists in a set of buildings designed by the most famous Italian architects and urban planners of the 20th century, which stand out in the urban fabric of the city within a holistic design, as well as in the buildings’ most selected and significant elements. A distinction is made between industrial areas and buildings, areas and buildings to be used for residence, and social facilities. This area is mainly identifiable along the axis of Corso Jervis and is among the most significant examples of the innovative policy launched by Olivetti. The site hosts buildings for production, the social facilities to be used by the factory and the citizens, and residential units.

The architectural heritage of Ivrea also represents the fundamental stage in the identification of those collections of architecture and urban planning schemes of the second half of the 20th century that offer different solutions by which technical cultures attempt to respond to the crucial issue of the regulation of urban growth tackled by cities and territories affected by processes of industrialisation. In Ivrea, in fact, for the first time in Italy, the factory culture of Olivetti and the experience of the Community movement involved architects and urban planners in an extensive design to plan the city.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The ensemble of buildings that make up the industrial city of Ivrea constitutes an outstanding and universally valuable example of the history of industry in the 20th century. Ivrea is an example of an alternative scheme of industrial policy implementation: this experience represents a different model from other industrial cities as it is based on a social and productive system inspired by the community itself.

Criterion (ii): The industrial city of Ivrea represents an atypical model of the modern industrial city in the Italian and European panorama, and represents an alternative response of exceptional quality to the questions posed by the rapid evolution of the industrialisation processes.

The city of Ivrea is the result of several contributions: ideas on the functional city, from the social Taylorists of the 1930s, and from the theories on community in the post WWII period; the successful economic environment that the production of the factory enjoyed between 1954 and 1958; the introduction of different disciplines and activities that entered the industrial process in an innovative way, such as psychology and sociology directly applied to knowledge and improvement of production; the introduction of innovative urban planning techniques (such as the use of investigations or questionnaires to define the community’s needs) and the proposal to understand culture as an element of social innovation. The city is a possible model of development, based on the collaboration between capital and labour, between workers and businesses, as an alternative to the traditional one. All this was translated into a ‘real project’ where the new industrial and trade union relations and innovative social policies set the premises for works of modern architecture, that translated those concepts into buildings, and urban planning schemes that redesign the city and its territorial context.

Criterion (iv): The set of buildings that compose the industrial city of Ivrea form an exceptional series of well-preserved examples of industrial buildings and social service facilities of extraordinary quality, among the first and highest expressions of a modern vision by which the functions are identified through the theories on use proposed by the Community Movement and the new industrial relations that Olivetti developed. 

Criterion (vi): The construction of Ivrea as a real Community represents the manifesto of the policies of the Communities Movement, founded in Ivrea in 1947, based upon the theoretical considerations proposed by Adriano Olivetti concerning a new political and administrative structure based on the Community. A precise economic model was perfected, characterised by the collective ownership of workers and the community of enterprises, regulated by an attentive planning activity, determined by the will on the industry’s part to direct the economic benefits onto the territory that it affects with its production cycle, by an innovative social services policy and by the affirmation of the supremacy of culture in social modernization processes that the factory promoted locally and institutionally at national level. The community model underwent successful experimentation in the modernisation of Southern Italy during the period of post-WWII reconstruction, and was also the subject of a continuous and fertile exchange at international level, particularly with North America.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The proposal of candidacy fulfils the requirements of authenticity and integrity set by UNESCO. In particular, as regards the criterion of authenticity, the set of buildings that compose the core area has in fact substantially conserved both the architectural characteristics of the different original projects and the external spaces, which form an integral part of the originality of the projects themselves. The buildings have remained unchanged in regards to form, structure and materials, and the modifications made necessary in order to guarantee the permanence of the functions. Such modifications have not affected the authenticity of the buildings set . Concerning the integrity of the building stock, the proposed area is sufficiently extensive to allow a full interpretation of the industrial city of Ivrea. The perimeter of the site includes all the most representative constructions of the industrial city, from the buildings to be used by industry to the social service facilities, to the residential units. Furthermore, the continuing existence of the original functions today still allows a reading of the projects and constructions that have contributed over time to the industrial model of Ivrea and symbolise the retention of the cultural values that have given life to the system in the city’s community.

Comparison with other similar properties

The industrial city of Ivrea is an example of an alternative scheme of the industrial policies of the 20th century. The building stock currently present on the World Heritage list to which the case of Ivrea can be compared is classifiable in three groups: 

1. Company towns, industrial towns built in Europe and in North America by enlightened entrepreneurs, attentive to the requirements of the working classes, such as Crespi d’Adda;

2. Industrial communities, such as Salins-les-Bains and New Lanark, which represent a manifesto of philanthropic and utopian ideas of model societies, conceived as a response to the initial phases of industrialization;

3. Industrial landscapes, exemplified by the candidacy of Derwent Valley Mills, where “for the first time there was large-scale industrial production in a hitherto rural landscape. This need to provide housing and other facilities for workers and directors resulted in the creation of the first modern industrial towns”[1]

Ivrea industrial city of the 20th century can be compared to the cases cited above, placing itself as an alternative model of exceptional value for the history of industry of the second half of the 20th century, for the reasons stated below.

Firstly, the industrial city was created over a long period of time, which was protracted for more than thirty years, in which the shape of Ivrea was expanded and established, becoming the conveyor of the most advanced thoughts in the industrial sector and, at the same time, in the socio-economic, architectural and urban planning disciplines. Secondly, the exceptional quality of the individual architectural creations and of the urban fabric is evident: in which an innovating innovative thought takes on a concrete shape, producing original solutions, differently declined. Finally, the experience of Ivrea is the realisation of an alternative model of an industrial city based on a social and production system inspired by the community, the roots of which are found in the economic and social debate on Personalism and social Taylorism developed after the epochal crisis of 1929.

Due to all these aspects, the industrial city of Ivrea distinguishes itself from the three groups cited above, as: 

1. It is not a company town. Indeed, the industrial city was not created ex novo, according to a univocal city-factory system, but was grafted onto the urban fabric of Ivrea, “completing” and transforming the city over a thirty-year period, thanks to the creation of many social services facilities alongside the factory, such as childcare facilities, summer camps, schools, which fed the urban and territorial social system.

2. It is substantially different from the utopian and philanthropic industrial communities. The philosophy that sustained the development of the industrial city of Ivrea is far from the utopias of the late 18th century, as it draws its substance from the political and social debate of the 1930s and was inspired by the international debate of the post-WWII period on the community concerning the approaches by which communities - agricultural and urban - tackle industrialisation and growth. The construction of the industrial city of Ivrea therefore places itself as a concrete and non-utopian implementation of a real economic and social project, that allowed in turn an exemplary industrial development for the entire second half of the 20th century.

3. The industrial landscape of Ivrea is different from the one proposed by the model of the Derwent Valley Mills, because it is the result of the coexistence of the process of industrialisation of the city with the processes of agricultural production, giving rise to a mixed system. Added to all this is the development of an original project of industrial decentralisation in the territory around Ivrea in the period of major expansion of industry. Furthermore, the industrial landscape of Ivrea is made up of particular and high quality factory, service and residential buildings carefully set within land and urban planning schemes. The project of decentralisation, the buildings and the urban and land planning schemes originate a landscape of great quality and modernity, which accompanies and characterises the economic and industrial process.

[1]ICOMOS, Industrial and Technical Heritage in the world heritage List, Unesco-Icomos Documentation Centre, September 2009. Description of World Heritage Industrial Sites with a bibliography of supporting Documents at the Unesco-Icomos Documentation Centre, p.113.