Oragnisation as order
Olivetti, the modern corporation and the process as project

PhD Project

The project was part of the LOEWE focus Architectures of Order, which aimed to analyse architecture as a cultural ordering practice that operates at the interfaces of control, knowledge, design and subjectivation. The LOEWE subproject Corporate architecture investigated the architectural implications of both legal and managerial structures to better understand the corporate institutional revolution.

The rise of the corporation as the predominant economic player in the early 20th century radically disrupted traditional law and economic theories. On the one hand, the new mechanism of the stock exchange for raising capital has disintegrated the traditional unitary right of property into its two distinct components of ownership (faculty of enjoyment) and control (power of disposition). On the other hand, and as a consequence, the transfer of control to the responsibility of the new professional figure of the salaried manager has led the organisational structure of the large company to create capacities and instruments for the internalisation of market mechanisms, casting serious doubts on the effectiveness of the classical theory of the self-regulating market. The uncertainties created by these institutional upheavals continue to challenge a comprehensive and shared conceptualisation of the subject, which is nevertheless based on the ambiguity of its materiality and the image to which one can relate.

The discipline of architecture, and in particular its historiography, has only recently begun to deal with the subject and has so far experienced similar discomfort. The modern pervasive corporation corresponds not to one architecture but to many architectures, not to one place but to many places. Where to locate the modern corporation is a dilemma fueled by an inadequate ability to define a precise, quantifiable and traceable place in the built space. When looking at ‘corporate architecture’, what and how should we talk about it?

On the basis of these assumptions, this research examines the architecture of the modern corporation by questioning its materiality and moving away from the rhetoric of ‘corporate image’. The hypothesis is that a specific design culture – the ‘process as project’ – corresponds to the modern corporation. In it, the architectural discourse, understood as the transformation of the constructed space, enters into new immaterial processes revolving around the managerial organisational structure and the programming logics that seek to transform the purely material uncertainty of construction into a form of dynamic control.

Especially after the Second World War, the modern corporation becomes the carrier of this design culture, and in Italy, between the 1950s and the 1970s, it resonated strongly with the State’s economic planning aims.

The conceptions, ideas, instruments and conditions under which the ‘process as project’ was formulated and carried out are the focus of this historical research and are investigated by means of a case study: the Olivetti company located in Ivrea.

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