New ICA show celebrates the gorgeous design and architecture of Olivetti

Ah, they don’t make them like they used to. A new exhibition on the design and architecture of Olivetti, opening at the ICA in London tomorrow, will have you swooning for the past.

The exhibition features a selection of photographs, films and ephemera which showcase the design and architecture of Italian manufacturing company Olivetti. While best known for its iconic typewriters, the show will also demonstrate the firm’s skill with graphic and interior design to communicate its products.

The ICA has worked closely with the Associazione Archivio Storico Olivetti, based in Ivrea, Italy, to create the show. Olivetti was first founded in 1908, but the exhibition will focus on the industrial boom of the post-war era, up until the 1960s and the arrival of Olivetti’s Valentine typewriter and its move towards computer technologies. Particularly exciting to see are some of the firm’s early advertising and also photographs of various showrooms and window displays.

Olivetti exhibition at ICA
Advertisement for Olivetti typewriters including Valentine, designed by American photographer and graphic designer Henry Wolf, 1969
Olivetti show at ICA, London
Poster for the Valentine typewriter, designed by Walter Ballmer (1969). Courtesy Associazione Archivio Storico Olivetti, Ivrea, Italy
From Olivetti show at the ICA London
Poster for the Divissuma 24 calculator, designed by Herbert Beyer (1950s). Courtesy Associazione Archivio Storico Olivetti, Ivrea, Italy

Olivetti was a supporter of the wider creative industries throughout its history, commissioning numerous writers, designers, architects and artists: from Franco Fortini and Giovanni Giudici who wrote many of the advertising slogans, to Gae Aulenti, BBPR, Louis Kahn, Le Corbusier, Costantino Nivola, and Carlo Scarpa who designed both offices and showrooms; and designers Walter Ballmer, Mario Bellini, Milton Glaser, Costantino Nivola, Marcello Nizzoli, Giovanni Pintori and Ettore Sottsass, as well as former Bauhaus students Herbert Bayer and Xanti Schawinsky, who were involved in the creation of both advertisement campaigns and the products themselves.

Recognising the need to integrate design into its business model, Olivetti established a graphic design department within the company in 1937, which was headed by Giovanni Pintori from 1940 until 1967. In creating a historical lineage of Olivetti’s design work from the mid-20th century, the display will show the progressive cultural ideals at the heart of the company’s ethos, a model which still resonates today.

Olivetti Showroom, Barcelona – Spain, designed by BBPR (1965). Photo: F. Català Roca. Courtesy of Navone Associati, Milan
Olivetti Showroom, Barcelona, designed by BBPR (1965). Photo: F. Català Roca, courtesy of Navone Associati, Milan
Olivetti Showroom, Venice – Italy, designed by Carlo Scarpa (1958). Photo: Marco Ambrosi. Courtesy of Navone Associati, Milan
Olivetti Showroom, Venice, designed by Carlo Scarpa (1958). Photo: Marco Ambrosi, courtesy of Navone Associati, Milan
Olivetti Showroom, Venice – Italy, designed by Carlo Scarpa (1958). Photo: Marco Ambrosi. Courtesy of Navone Associati, Milan
Olivetti Showroom, Venice, designed by Carlo Scarpa (1958). Photo: Marco Ambrosi, courtesy of Navone Associati, Milan

‘Olivetti: Beyond Form and Function’ is on show at the ICA from tomorrow until July 17. More info is at ica.org.uk

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