The Olivetti Showroom was designed by Carlo Scarpa in 1957–58 at the behest of Adriano Olivetti, who wanted to create a modern showroom in St Mark’s Square in Venice to display the typewriters and calculators produced by the celebrated Ivrea-based company. Closed in 1997 and temporarily transformed into a tawdry souvenir shop, the Showroom was then painstakingly restored and given on a concessionary basis to FAI in 2011 by Assicurazioni Generali, the owner of the building, for it to be opened up to the public.
Today, then, those with a passion for Scarpa’s work, as well as everyday visitors, can appreciate in some considerable depth the accomplished hand of the Venetian architect in the brilliant articulation of the space, the extraordinary central staircase that appears to hang in the air, and the way in which he taps the potential of the transparencies that the space affords. Out of what was originally a dark, narrow room, Scarpa succeeded in creating an open, well balanced space one that architectural historian Francesco Dal Co has defined as “among the most outstanding examples of twentieth-century Italian architecture”.
Moreover, the materials used were very carefully chosen: slabs of Aurisina marble for the pilasters and part of the upper flooring; rosewood for the shelves on which the typewriters sit, anchored to the ground only at the front and held aloft by stainless steel uprights; and African teak for the galleries. The walls, with Venetian stucco applied over panelling, are illuminated both vertically and horizontally by fluorescent lights, whereas the flooring is a modern reinterpretation of the ancient art of the mosaic, made of glass tesserae of various dimensions and colour coded for the different areas of the Showroom.
Alongside the staircase, an essential focal point is provided by Alberto Viani’s 1956 sculpture Nudo al sole, which the architect inserted on a black Belgian marble base, covered by a subtle veil of water. FAI’s current layout could not have been considered complete without the vintage calculators and typewriters, which were enthusiastically donated by Olivetti. The opening up to the public of the Olivetti Showroom is, then, a project of quite extraordinary cultural significance, and one that has an impact not only on the city Scarpa loved so much but also on the world of architecture and international art.