Europe,  🇮🇹 Italy

Welcome to Ivrea, Industrial City of the 20th century

… a dream looks like a dream until you start doing something, only then it becomes a goal, that is something infinitely bigger” (Adriano Olivetti)

I focus on this sign along the streets of MAAM, the Modern Architecture Open Air Museum of Ivrea. Some years ago, I read an article about the Industrial City of Ivrea, that was described as the ideal city of the 20th century. Interesting. Later on, in 2018 UNESCO inscribed the Industrial City of Ivrea in the World Heritage list. Well, now I have one more reason to go there and have a look around. Ivrea is little known by tourists even if it’s a unique place in the Italian architectural scene.

What’s the MAAM?

The Modern Architecture Open Air Museum is an area of the town outside the city center, it runs mainly along via Jervis. Here you can find the major buildings of Olivetti, one of the most important Italian companies of the 20th century. The MAAM of Ivrea industrial city includes buildings such as factories, offices, housing for employees and social services to the local community. During the period between 1930 and 1960 some of the most famous Italian architects were engaged by Adriano Olivetti to design these buildings.

Adriano Olivetti was a great Italian businessman who had an extremely innovative conception of the social role of business and work. By visiting the MAAM you have the opportunity to know better the extraordinary vision of a great man who hired in his company skilled employees and technicians, architects and even poets and philosophers. Thus, he created a sort of modern humanism inside his company.

If you want to learn more about this interesting story, the only thing you have to do is to wear a pair of comfort shoes and take a 2km walk along the roads of Ivrea Industrial City. It will take about 2-3 hours of your time, or maybe more if you follow my further advices.

How to visit the MAAM?

Before leaving home, I ringed the local Tourist Office: a very kind lady gave me lot of information and sent me a detailed email. To sum up, it’s possible to visit the MAAM of Ivrea industrial city in 3 ways:

  • The first possibility is doing a self-organized walk in seven steps. The path goes along via Jervis where you will find 7 information points (take the time to read the tables). You don’t have to pay any ticket for the visit as you walk along public streets. The buildings are private property, so they are not open to the public. To help you navigate along the streets, a useful pdf map is provided by the tourist office.
  • The second possibility is to contact the tourist office and book a guided tour. Keep in mind that you need to do it at least one month in advance. You don’t need to be in a group to hire a guide (but of course the price is affordable if you can share it with other visitors).
  • The third possibility is to contact a local tour operator and book for their visits. In this case you’ll have the opportunity to enter some of the private buildings too.

Ivrea industrial city: the itinerary in via Jervis

The itinerary of the visit can ideally be divided into three blocks.

1/ The offices

The massive Palazzo Uffici Uno (1959-64) is structured in three wings. It seems a three-bladed propeller if viewed from the sky. Today only a part of it is occupied by offices and many spaces are empty. The main entrance on the ground floor reveals a majestic staircase leading to the upper floors. All around the building there’s a large garden with monumental trees, as if there is a research for balance between human activities and natural environment. 

Architectural details of Palazzo Uffici Uno, former headquarter of Olivetti

Palazzo Uffici Due (1985-88) is contiguous to Palazzo Uffici Uno and seems to be connected with it like the tail of a comet (have a look at the map). Here time and abandonment are quite visible, unfortunately.

Palazzo Uffici Due: the building seen from via Jervis

2/ The residential area

Close to the offices there’s the residential area, formed by a series of low and sober buildings. Special houses were built for large families, and elegant small villas for executives. The most original building is the West Residential Unit (1968-71): it’s a perfect semi-circle camouflaged by an embankment. On the top of the roof several semi-spherical windows reveal the presence of an underground life (maybe this is the reason why the building is known as Talponia). If you walk on the roof (it’s designed as a promenade) you can see the interior garden and the large semicircular facade made of glass and steel. This building was formerly used as temporary housing for employees in business trip.

The West Residential Unit, known with the name of Talponia

If you climb up the adjacent hill you can reach the Olivetti Historical Archive and Villa Casana. The view from Villa Casana terrace takes the entire area of the Officine ICO, that is the factory.

The view from Villa Casana

3/ The factory and related services

At the end of via Jervis you will meet the buildings that formerly were the Officine ICO, and other buildings for services. The first factory (early 1900s) is a magnificent red brick building.

The red brick factory

Successive enlargements were made from the 1930s onwards in a completely different architectural style: a large use of materials like glass and steel starts to be introduced in the urban context. Thanks to the large windows the factory became visible from the outside: it was a clear message of openness towards the entire local community.

Perspective from the thermal power station

Near the plants, other interesting buildings were built: the company canteen, the Olivetti Study and Experience Center, the Social Services Center, the nursery, and other technical facilities such as the thermal power station. And why not to mention the carpentry, recognizable thanks to the inventive shading screens enlivening the façade. The factory underwent several extensions over the years; today only a part of it (the Central ICO) has been restored and re-used, while the other buildings are empty.

The Social Services Center

Other points of interest: Tecnologic@mente

At this point you’ll probably be hungry, so enjoy a great lunch (the Piedmont cuisine is amazing!) and then prepare yourself to the last effort: reach the Tecnologic@mente Museum and Workshop. It is located in the city center in via S. Francesco d’Assisi, 4. Look carefully when you arrive there, the museum is not particularly visible. Ring the bell and climb the stairs. You’ll reach a small space where you can have an interesting overview of the Olivetti’s products. The visit is guided so you have the chance to hear some stories about the company’s life. Next summer the Museum will move to Palazzo Uffici Uno, where it will have a larger space available and a more suitable context.

Peanuts for travellers

  • Where to start the visit? Usually guided tours start from the red brick building (which is near the train station). If you arrive by train, it’s perfect. Otherwise, if you travel by car, you can find large car parks near Palazzo Uffici Uno. You can the visit the MAAM in both directions (the 7 information points are thematic and not chronological).
  • At the end of the visit you can return along via Jervis, or you can have a walk on the hills behind the MAAM (follow Via Monte Navale – Strada Privata Monte Bidasio – Strada Comunale Banchette-Pavone). Nice villas and gardens hide there, like in a sort of local Beverly Hills.
  • For any information you can contact Ivrea Tourist Office (Mrs Iside and Claudia, ph. +39.0125.618131, email info.ivrea@turismotorino.org) and have a look at Turismo Torino & provincia main website.
  • For additional information visit this page about the Unesco site.
  • If you plan to stay for the weekend take into consideration to make an excursion to Anelli dei 5 laghi (few km away from Ivrea) and look for the Terre Ballerine near lake Sirio. You will combine a nice walk with a curious experience!
  • Are you looking for a hotel? Here we slept very well and had a great breakfast. The same hotel has a good restaurant too.
  • To delight your taste once more before leaving: Vecchio Cipresso, trattoria con salotto.
  • After visiting Ivrea, would you like to plan a weekend in another Italian city? Why not going to Modica – as Lucia Busato did – to delight your palate?
Nadia Bravo

Dreaming of imaginary space journeys and uncharted planets is what I used to do when I was a child. Planning my own routes here on Earth is what I do now. Each time a new destination. My travel partner in crime is Ale, my better half and definitely a much better photographer than me. Then there’s me, of course! I am the one who studies and plans. A travel couple who looks for beauty, new horizons and different points of view.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.