If you think of typewriters (which I do), you think of Olivetti. Founded by Camillo Olivetti in 1908 in Ivrea, Italy, they are considered one of the leading manufacturers of the mid-20th century. 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 week, an exhibition at the ICA has opened as part of The London Festival of Architecture and ‘Beyond Form and Function’ couldn’t be a better subtitle. Olivetti’s legacy of recognising the importance of design over pure functionalism can be seen in so much industrial and product design today, you only have to imagine where Apple would be without its iconic smooth, white curves. The display presents photographs, films and ephemera relating to Olivetti’s graphic and spatial design, as well as architecture. Olivetti commissioned writers, designers, architects and artists: from BBPR, Louis Kahn and Le Corbusier, to Gae Aulenti, Mario Bellini, Milton Glaser and Ettore Sottsass, as well as former Bauhaus students Xanti Schawinsky and Herbert Bayer.

Go and revel in the gorgeousness of their design and I dare you not to go hunting on Ebay for one the moment you leave.


‘Olivetti: Beyond Form and Function’ is on now at the ICA until 17 July 2016

Free and open to all.

Olivetti Lettera 22 poster by Giovanni Pintori (1954). Courtesy Associazione.