The Lingotto Factory
A Milestone in Turin & FIAT’s History
To understand Turin’s development in the 20th century, it’s necessary to speak about the Lingotto factory and FIAT (FCA as it is called now), Italy’s largest company. FIAT, Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, was founded in 1899 and the building in Turin which represents the company most definitely is the Lingotto factory.
Lingotto: The Factory Which Launched the Iconic Fiat 500
Lingotto was built in the 1920s. When Senator Giovanni Agnelli (CEO and majority shareholder) had visited the Ford factory in Detroit, he then decided to expand production by adopting new and evolved production technologies in a state of the art building which was innovative and unique from an architectural point of view.
The building is made out of reinforced concrete, has two parallel, five floors high with 500 meters long construction connected by two twisted ramps on each end. The ramps were built to get to the 1 km long test track on the roof of the building, used to test the cars being released.
The cars were assembled while moving from the ground floor to the fifth floor. Each floor was dedicated to a special construction stage and with assembly lines, allowing workers to not move from their work station, thus reducing assembly times.
The Lingotto factory was opened in 1926 in the presence of King Vittorio Emanuele III. At that time, production had already started and the office building was complete. Back then, Lingotto was Europe’s most advanced factory with about 12,000 blue collar workers and 500 white collar workers working three shifts in a continuous cycle. The workers were not only from Turin; many of them were coming from the countryside or from other Italian regions. Because of the influx of workers, it was soon necessary to build new housing and provide additional services. In a very short time. a new neighborhood was built. Turin began to grow towards the south reaching its peak when Mirafiori, Fiat’s new plant, was built in 1939 and finally when it was enlarged in 1956.
In over 60 years the Lingotto factory gave life to over 80 different automobile models, the most famous of which were the Torpedo, the Balilla and the legendary Topolino (the first real version of Fiat 500). This last model was built from 1936 until 1957 when the version of the new Fiat 500 was presented.
After that, a number of different models followed. All of them with the aim to offer post-war Italian society a flexible and economic solution responding to the needs of Italy’s “economic boom”.
In 2007 a new Fiat 500 was launched: modern, technological, completely redesigned. The Fiat 500 2.0 soon became the world’s most sold Fiat! The model choice of the Fiat 500 is wide-ranging, from L to X, from convertible to Abarth and, last but not least, this year’s model the 500 Anniversary, celebrating 60 years of the legendary Cinquecento (“500”).
The Reinvention of Lingotto
Car production at the Lingotto plant in Turin ended in 1982. The last model produced was the Lancia Delta. The question arose at that point of time – “What shall we do with a building that was a symbol of modernity fascinating many people of its time”? How can we change an obsolete building considered “industrial archeology” into a place standing for the Turin of tomorrow? Fiat asked the famous architect Renzo Piano, also the famous architect of “The Shard” in London, to give new life to this enormous building. The plan was a complete renovation of the building leaving the original structure unchanged and changing the factory into a multi-functional facility for public use.
The result was a “city in the city”. Spaces of different nature were created inside the former production spaces: from a shopping mall, exhibition spaces, hotels and offices for the service sector, to rooms for special university departments (as the automotive department of Turin’s Politecnico to the dental school) and a tropical garden.
There are three spaces representing the new Lingotto created by Renzo Piano:
- The Auditorium: completely paneled in cherry wood and defined by experts as a real music temple because of its perfect acoustics. The Auditorium can accommodate more than 2000 spectators.
- The “Bubble”: a panoramic meeting room in crystal and steel placed at 40 meters from the ground from where it’s possible to admire the Alps mountain range. It’s possible to access the Bubble both from elevators placed inside the Lingotto and from a small heliport on top of the roof
- And last but not least, the Pinacoteca Agnelli: hosted in the so-called “Scrigno” (treasure chest), an innovative and technological piece of architecture created to store a precious art collection by various important artists like: Canaletto, Matisse, Modigliani, Renoir and more.
This is what the Lingotto is…“a city center outside the city center”, a commercial place but, above all, a place promoting culture, meetings, social exchange and innovation.
Lingotto: In The Neighborhood
Lingotto can be easily reached by Turin’s Metro. The Lingotto area is very lively and offers many other things for visitors. One of the sightseeing attractions recommended to visitors is Turin’s National Automotive Museum (Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile Torino), where you can find over 150 models of the main car producers in an innovatively choreographed exhibition. The museum presents national and international car history through the development of the customs and society of the last two centuries.
Near Lingotto you can also find Eataly, Slow Food’s first market, which is well-known all over the world. In the many little restaurants inside Eataly you can buy and eat Italian specialties not easily found elsewhere.
Architecture enthusiasts should take a walk in the area called Italia ’61, built in 1961 to celebrate the first 100 years of Italy’s unification. It is an area between the Lingotto, the Palazzo del Lavoro and Palazzo Vela. This last one was built to be a space for exhibitions. On the occasion of the Olympic Winter Games in 2006 Palazzo Vela was completely renovated by architect Gae Aulenti, becoming a modern and highly technological ice rink.
Turin offers visitors not only the treasures of its past, but it also presents itself as a city of continuous change always looking towards the future.
Useful Italian phrases to use during your visit to the Lingotto factory thanks to L’Italiano Porticando, an Italian Language School in Turin:
la fabbrica/lo stabilimento – the factory, the plant
l’automobile – the car, the automobile
la Pinacoteca – the art gallery
il centro commerciale – the shopping mall
la pista di collaudo – the test track
Come arrivo al Lingotto? – How can I get to the Lingotto?
Dove si prende la metro? – Where do I take the underground?
Dove devo scendere? – Where do I have to get out?
Dov’è la biglietteria della Pinacoteca? – Where’s the art gallery’s ticket office?
Dove si comprano I biglietti per l’Auditorium? – Where can I buy the tickets for the Auditorium?
Dov’è – Eataly/ – il Museo dell’Automobile? – Where’s Eataly?/The Automobile museum?
Laura was born and raised in Turin. She studied at the Department of Architecture of Turin’s Politecnico specializing in history and arts. This allowed her to develop a deep knowledge of history of architecture and, in particular, of Turin. Today, along with her business partner Rosaria, they not only provide Italian language lessons, L’Italiano Porticando Italian Language School also organizes cultural activities for their students.