After a few trips to the United States and much discussion, in 1915, the Fiat board of directors decided to construct its new American-style factory in the Lingotto area, aligned with the other plants already built in the south of the city. Work began in July 1916 and the project and works management were entrusted to the engineer Giacomo Matté Trucco. Other well-known Turinese engineers of the period assisted him. In September of the same year the central block, more than half a kilometre long, was laid out. Work on the rooftop car test track, perhaps the factory’s best-known symbol, was completed in 1921. The ramps (north and south), Lingotto’s other two symbols, were finished in 1925 and 1926, the date when the office block, seat of the company’s board of directors, was also inaugurated.
In those years Turin was nearing the end of its firs industrial revolution. This had begun with the textile industries in the north of the city, progressed through manufacturing, mainly mechanical, to the south, starting from Borgo San Paolo where Lancia was situated, continued with Lingotto and, a few years later, reached Mirafiori.
The Fiat factory, on which design started in 1933, was inaugurated on 1 May 1939 and doubled in size in 1956.
Even before it was completed, Lingotto had become a household image in Italy. It did so through the writings of Persico and Le Corbusier, through the pictures by famous photographers and the visits made to the factory by nearly every leading delegation visiting Italy. A workplace, it almost immediately also became the symbol of an industrial Italy that was struggling to emerge.
When the Mirafiori factory opened, Lingotto seemed obsolete; its production, spread over several storeys, seemed uneconomical. Even before World War II people had begun discussing a possible use for it. Yet the factory remained in production, employing thousands of workers, until 1982. Serious discussion of possible new uses started at the end of the 1970s, particularly after the 1980 recession. This period saw interesting exchanges between company, administration, unions, intellectuals and technicians.
Hardly anyone, however, questioned the need to conserve the factory. It was the company that took the initiative. Giovanni Agnelli and Cesare Romiti in particular were convinced that the structure could be kept alive, albeit with a new purpose. Twenty architects, selected from among the most famous world-wide, were invited to present projects for the possible new use of Lingotto. These were shown in an exhibition organised in 1984 and discussed at several conferences and meetings.
The following years were full of activity, which culminated in the Turin municipal council asking Giuseppe De Rita, Roberto Guiducci and Renzo Piano to draw up a feasibility plan for Lingotto’s conversion in March 1985. The report was definitively approved in November 1987 and the city and regional authorities approved the new detailed plan for a change of use in 1990.
Turin was in recession and underwent a radical process of industrial reorganisation. The most visible consequence of this was the abandonment of industrial areas, the beginning of a new social and town-planning phase of the city. The study for the new city was entrusted to Vittorio Gregotti in 1986, the year Fiat also commissioned Piano to produce the design for the new Lingotto.
Between 1986 and 1991, when building actually began, Lingotto was culturally buzzing. The former press shop, turned into a conference centre, was the venue also for concerts conducted by Luciano Berio and Claudio Abbado and for theatrical performances under the direction of Luca Ronconi. The workshops, opened in June 1989, hosted an exhibition on Russian and Soviet Art, 1870-1930, followed, in 1992, by one on American Art, 1930-1970. The office block was used for exhibitions on Turin’s architecture and city planning and on Andy Warhol.
The spaces in Lingotto were forerunners of a still current trend to make temporary use of industrial buildings for major cultural events. Building work on Lingotto started (phase I) in 1991 with the reorganisation of the press area for exhibitions and large cultural events (from the motor show to the book fair, repeatedly held here). Restructuring was completed in March 1992. What had seemed a challenge by a few started to take shape and, in the eleven years needed to create a reformed Lingotto, it involved a host of people: architects, technicians, contractors, skilled workers of all kinds, banks and institutions as well as the administrators of the scheme.Work on the shop-floor, the factory proper, started in 1993 with a project that took in two-thirds of the premises (phase II) and ended after three years. The last phase (phase III), completed last September 2002, started in November 1999. The project preserves the 6 by 6 metre grid of the building, featured in the original design by Matté Trucco, and manages to save the two façades and their rhythms.
The additions- The Auditorium, Globe, Picture gallery, new Polytechnic and “garden of wonders” – are in the courtyards, or alter the skyline of the old building. Today Lingotto is an articulated and complex structure in which culture, polytechnic, university, auditorium, hospitality, hotel and guest accommodation, conference centre, exhibition area, amusements, cinemas and shopping mall all co-exist intelligently. This has been achieved without adopting the banal models of North American shopping centres.
Unlike other restructuring that essentially substitute the original building and reduce its memory to a few symbols, Lingotto today presents the visitor with a subtle distribution of functions and routes that allow a unitary passage through the spaces, creating the effect pf a city where people and functions mix, without, however, breaking the unity of the architecture, which is today unique in Europe.
Taken from: Carlo Olmo, Lingotto anno duemiladue, Allemandi, Torino, 2002.