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Olivetti's Red Bricks Factory

Startup, art and social. Olivetti’s dream is reborn

A consortium of local entrepreneurs bought the factory where the first PCs were born. They will relaunch it through the Icona project. The target? Bringing innovators back to town
by Jacopo Ricca

Bringing computer scientists, engineers, but also artists and social innovators to the symbol Olivetti’s factory. After years of abandonment, a group of entrepreneurs led by AEG, the Ivrea energy and gas cooperative, bought the historic “red bricks” factory, where the production of typewriters began. To manage and plan its future production there is Icona, born from a play on words between the idea of the symbolic place and the name of the first Olivetti’s company, Ico, which is precisely Ingegner Camillo Olivetti. An initial investment of almost 2 million euros to purchase the original structure and the three subsequent extensions, but which should reach 20 million when the renovations of the 45,000 square meter complex in via Jervis will be completed. The architect Cino Zucchi was called to study them.
The operation, conceived in 2017 and started in 2018, begins to bear fruit: «We managed to get the 500 people working for Wind in Ivrea to settle there. After the move from Palazzo Uffici had been decided, there was the risk of yet another transfer to Milan, which was thus averted» the vice president of Icona Alberto Zambolin says. Together with the president of Aeg and Icona, Andrea Ardissone, he launched the call to the Eporedian entrepreneurs. The first 15,000 square meters had been renovated in 2008 by a previous property and will soon also host the employees of Osai, a company controlled by Prima Industrie which operates in the sector of numerical control for precision machinery: «It’s the first attractive success of the project – Ardissone comments – Thanks to these first transfers, a company cookhouse has also been opened and we can offer services.»
However, Icona is not only a container for businesses. The most important challenge is to bring the innovators back to Ivrea. This is why Icona has started a partnership with ComoNext, the Lombard scientific-technological park that has regenerated an old industrial area bringing companies and startups to the province of Como: «There are about 600 people working there and we would like to achieve a similar result, offering to companies a system capable of studying innovative technological solutions in the area – Zambolin explains – It is a question of bringing together skills and innovators from different sectors who, despite being part of different companies, come together to try to respond to the problems and needs of Canavese entrepreneurs. For this reason we started the discussion with the industrialists and the Chamber of Commerce. We hope that a process of new economic development can be triggered for a territory that has suffered a deep crisis.

The underlying philosophy is similar to that of the aforementioned Adriano Olivetti, an enlightened entrepreneur who aimed at a new technological humanism. So in via Jervis art is back, also innovative art: «The Datapoiesis project creates art through the information and data collected on the web – Zambolin says – For example, the first project hosted by us represents a man who lights up more or less intensely red based on the trend of absolute poverty in the world.» The headquarters of the Tecnologic@Mente museum will be moved there in June, which houses the collection of products, first mechanical and then computer, and for some time has been carrying out educational activities on these topics: «We consider it a sort of return to the future considering that the first typewriters came out here – Ardissone adds – It will be above the center for visitors to the Unesco site.»
The project also looks at social issues, another direct line to Olivetti’s thinking. This is why we are studying a collaboration with the QuintAmpliamento association, led by the Polytechnic University of Milan professor Mario Calderini: «We would that what he calls hybrid enterprise finds a place here – Zambolin concludes – That is, a form of entrepreneurial activity that, contaminated by non-profit sector values, set objectives not only economic but also social and environmental

If you want to download of the original article published on La Repubblica, click here.

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