Olivetti. Beyond Form and Function

25 May 2016 – 17 Jul 2016

Regular hours

10:00 – 18:00
10:00 – 18:00
10:00 – 18:00
10:00 – 18:00
10:00 – 18:00
10:00 – 18:00

ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts)

London, United Kingdom


Travel Information

  • Piccadilly Circus/Charing Cross

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Founded as a typewriter manufacturing company by Camillo Olivetti in 1908 in Ivrea, Italy, Olivetti is considered one of the leading manufacturers of the mid-20th century.


Recognising the importance of design over pure functionalism, a concept largely owed to his son, Adriano Olivetti, the company produced some of the most iconic hand-typing devices and early computers of the 20th century: from the Lettera 22 (1950) and Valentine (1969) typewriters, to the Elea 9003 (1959), Italy’s first computer, and the Programma 101 (1965), the first commercially produced desktop computer.

This display presents photographs, films and ephemera relating to Olivetti’s graphic and spatial design, as well as architecture. Focusing largely on the industrial boom of the post-war era, the display will cover a key period in Olivetti’s history, a time which saw the creation of the iconic Valentine typewriter and the company’s increasing move towards computer technologies. 

Olivetti’s innovative design ethos extended beyond its products and can be found in its advertisements, considered pioneering for the ways in which they communicated complex, extensive information through a bold, simplified aesthetic, but also through interior design and architecture, as seen in the company’s numerous showrooms and shop window displays which were conceptualised and transformed into unique installations. One example of this is the London Kingsway showroom, created by Australian designer Gordon Andrews and FHK Henrion, a key figure of British post-war design who had close links to the ICA.

Throughout its history, Olivetti commissioned writers, designers, architects and artists: from BBPR, Louis Kahn and Le Corbusier, to Gae Aulenti, Walter Ballmer, Mario Bellini, Milton Glaser, Costantino Nivola, Marcello Nizzoli, Giovanni Pintori and Ettore Sottsass as well as former Bauhaus students Xanti Schawinsky and Herbert Bayer. The display creates a historical lineage and shows the progressive cultural ideals at the heart of the company’s ethos, a model which still resonates today. 


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