Blot on the Historic Townscape

King’s Lane Development, Cambridge, UK (1967)  – Architect: James Cubitt & Partners 

There are so many third-rate modern buildings around they just blend into the background, but sometimes you come across one that is so crass, ugly, and ridiculous that you just have to wonder what was going through the designer’s head. Walking along Trumpington Street, the main historic route through Cambridge, this monstrosity stopped me in my tracks.

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This is the visible part of a large development of student accommodation behind the street which emerges into a space between two old college buildings in honey coloured stone, part of King’s College. It has absolutely no relationship with either in proportions, materials, detailing and everything else you can think of. Insensitive is the mildest adjective to describe this building. It is hideous and crude in every single respect and is just the sort of miserable 1960s edifice that made everyone loathe architects. King’s College is equally to blame for being persuaded at the presentation that this awful design would be suitable for this historic site and not sacking Cubitts on the spot. The planners of this era would approve any old rubbish as long as it was ‘modern’ so no surprise there.

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The design concept for this elevation is mystifying. Perhaps the parapet used to line up with the building on the left before the roof extension, and presumably the giant bay is meant to reflect the corner turret of its Victorian neighbour. Are the badly stained recessed lines in the facade meant to be a nod to the rustication of its classical neighbour? Not sure what the tatty looking grey metal windows and panels have been inspired by – the extension of the mullions into little spikes above the roof was presumably meant to liven up the roof line, who knows? The mullions also do a great job of staining the facade below them. And presumably the stone was chosen to match the limestone of King’s College Chapel and its neighbours up the road instead of the ones next door? In fact, I am giving some credit to the architects for thinking about ‘context’ when of course in that dismal era of British Modernism it was a dirty word. The entire aim of this building was to show utter contempt for its old neighbours. At least it isn’t listed so there is some hope it could be demolished and replaced with something more sensitive in the future.

Unfortunately Cubitts is still a large multi-disciplinary practice spreading its vile designs around the world, particularly in the Middle East and Africa. Check out this link to get an idea:

http://www.jamescubittandpartners.com/#!__offices/cairo

The practice is obviously not ashamed of its work at King’s Lane which is still shown on its website!

King’s College shows how much it thinks of one of its most illustrious alumni, Alan Turing, by putting up a blue plaque in his honour, not on one of the many beautiful walls it owns but on the revolting stained flanks of this eyesore which wasn’t even built when he was alive.

 

Posted in Architecture, Blots on the Townscape, Building, Ugly Buildings, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , ,

Dismal Designs – The Hearing Aid

WHY ARE HEARING AIDS SO BADLY DESIGNED AND OVER-PRICED?

An elderly relation of mine has some Starkey 3 Series hearing aids which cost an extraordinary £2,500 ($3,600)! Apart from the outrageous price, of which more later, this is one of the most badly designed consumer products I have ever come across. Old people’s hands tend to be unsteady, and their eyesight is often poor, so the ‘geniuses’ at Starkey came up with an off switch that doubles up as a battery holder so when you pull it out with shaky fingers the tiny battery usually falls on the floor and can’t be found by someone who has difficulties bending down and can’t see very well. She dropped one of the aids fiddling about with this ridiculous switch and it promptly broke into two because of the brittle and flimsy plastic. The hearing aid centre charged her hundreds of pounds to fix it, and soon afterwards she dropped it again with the same result! Because of the expense she now only uses the surviving one which is very inconvenient.

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Why do you need a loose battery or such a crude switch? What about proximity wireless charging like the Apple Watch? What about having it switch off automatically when it is taken out of the ear? Modern camera electronic viewfinders sense when your eye is against them so it can’t be that difficult. The whole concept and design of the electronics (presumably just a microphone, speaker, and digital signal processor) look like something out of the 1970s. As the case had split open you could see the rather basic looking components and wiring inside, which didn’t look very complicated or expensive, so I found a breakdown of the costs of these things. As I suspected the profit margins are huge!

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The breakdown for a pair of typical mid-range hearing aids is apparently as follows (US dollars):

Cost of manufacture – $250, then sold to a specialist hearing aid centre for $1,000 which includes research and development costs, marketing and $425 profit. The retailer then charges another $2,000 to cover their overheads and profit, selling them for $3,000. The audiologist profession maintain they need this level of profit to cover fitting, cleaning and adjustments, and the ‘personal touch’……!! This is all reminiscent of opticians some years ago selling outrageously priced glasses, which now of course you can get much cheaper from your local pharmacy and high street chain.

There are now some web-based suppliers such as Audicus in the US and Hearing Direct in the UK selling hearing aids for under $500/£340, so hopefully this might force the large manufacturers to come up with innovative modern designs at a reasonable price.

There is also growing interest in more sophisticated alternative solutions to the conventional device using smartphones:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-05/hearing-aid-alternatives-get-cheaper-more-powerful

Posted in Design, product design, Uncategorized | Tagged ,

A Factory Filled with Light – Olivetti at Pozzuoli

stabilimentopozzuoli

“…Facing the most remarkable bay in the world, the architect has designed this factory to respect its beautiful surroundings and to make this beauty a source of comfort in the working day. We wanted nature to be part of the life of the factory rather than being excluded by a building which was too large, in which the windowless walls, air conditioning, and artificial light would diminish, day by day, the spirit of those working there. 

The factory was therefore designed to a human scale because in such surroundings the workplace will be an instrument of fulfilment and not a source of suffering. So we wanted low windows, open courtyards, and trees in the garden to banish the feeling of being in a constricted and hostile enclosure….”

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60 years ago, on the 23rd April 1955, with these words in a speech to his employees, Adriano Olivetti opened his new office machine factory in Pozzuoli overlooking the Bay of Naples. These are not the sort of words usually uttered by a factory owner but Olivetti was no ordinary boss. One of the most remarkable industrialists and intellectuals of the Twentieth Century he had developed a utopian vision of the place of industry in society that this pioneering factory exemplified. This vision had developed in the twenty years since he took over the direction of his father’s company in 1933.

BACKGROUND

fedora (2)In 1908 Camillo Olivetti (1868-1943) had established Ing. C. Olivetti & C. in the small northern Italian town of Ivrea, near to Turin, as Italy’s first typewriter factory (illus.). A gifted engineer, he had been inspired by a stay in the USA to first import, then make, typewriters which were becoming essential equipment in most offices. The company grew rapidly and by the early 1920s was employing 250 and making over 2,000 machines a year. Olivetti was also an early Socialist, involved in radical politics at the turn of the century, and he published two left-wing newspapers. His factory pioneered social reforms in a country with generally appalling working conditions providing his employees with health and accident insurance, good wages, apprenticeships, further education, and subsidised housing. His socialist and anti-fascist views soon brought him, and his son Adriano, into conflict with the Mussolini regime and it was only the state’s need for Italian-made typewriters (as vital as computers are today) that prevented the firm from being closed down during the Fascist period.

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Adriano Olivetti (1901-1960) shared his parents’ socialist opinions and strong moral purpose and, although trained as an engineer, he became an editor of one of Camillo’s newspapers at an early age. However, the failure of Italian socialism in the early 1920s and the rise of Mussolini disillusioned him (1) and he decided against a career in political journalism, joining the family firm as an apprentice in 1924. Following a tour of America in 1925, where he saw the mass-production methods of Ford and the vast Remington typewriter factories, he persuaded his father to transform the rather old-fashioned way Olivetti produced its machines. By the time Adriano became president of the firm in 1938 it had grown by 400% into a global business employing more than 2,000 workers.

During this period of rapid expansion the welfare of the Olivetti employees had not been forgotten. Adriano’s enthusiasm for modern management techniques included the development of social policies along with a new emphasis on industrial and graphic design, and modern architecture. Increasing profits were used for the benefit of the company’s workers. A foundation was created to provide financial assistance to injured or sick employees, social services were extended to include a health service, convalescent home, libraries, schools and a summer camp, and a whole district of subsidised worker housing was planned. Olivetti had embraced Modernism with enthusiasm, inviting Le Corbusier to Ivrea in 1934 to discuss management, architecture and planning. He brought together a group of young avant-garde Milanese architects to help him plan the expansion of the company’s facilities, and to develop a regional plan for the area around Ivrea which culminated in the Piano Regolatore di Valle d’Aosta (General Plan of the Aosta Valley) in 1937.

Olivetti complex in via Jervis: first extension Architect Figini1936 Factory extension, Ivrea, Architects Figini and Pollini (1949 extension by the same architects in the background)

The Olivettis’ relationship with the Fascist regime had been complex. Rather like Leitz (Leica) in Nazi Germany, the family’s politics and opposition were well known but the state needed their expertise and products. Their newspaper (Tempi Nuovi) was forced to close in 1925 after being attacked by the Fascists, and Adriano had a brief period of exile in London following his involvement in the escape to France of Filippo Turati, the veteran Socialist leader, in 1926. Despite this, to protect his business, he joined the Fascist Party in the late 30s whilst continuing his clandestine support for the anti-fascist movement. After the Nazi occupation of Italy he had to escape again in February 1944, this time to Switzerland, after being imprisoned by the Badoglio government. His father had already gone into hiding to avoid arrest, and he had died in December 1943. The Olivetti factories in Ivrea became the headquarters for the partisans in the region, and 24 employees were killed during the resistance struggle.

COMUNITA’ 

Olivetti had started to think about the reconstruction and ‘resurrection’ of post-war Italy as early as 1942, and his exile in Switzerland provided an opportunity for him to develop further his theories on urban and regional planning that he had begun with the Valle d’Aosta Plan. These ideas crystallized into the doctrine of Comunità or Community set out in his book ‘L’ordine politico delle Comunità published in 1945. He was a great admirer of the US writer and urban theorist Lewis Mumford whose 1938 book ‘The Culture of Cities’ stressed the importance of the region, ‘an area large enough to embrace a sufficient range of interests and small enough to keep these interests in focus and make them a subject of collective concern’.

Olivetti believed that industrialisation and urbanisation were destroying that sense of community and closeness to nature that people felt when they lived in smaller scale surroundings with natural and human boundaries, drawing inspiration from his own experience of living and working in the Canavese region around Ivrea, and the Canton system of government in Switzerland. He proposed that society should be organised in small self-governing communities of between 150,000 and 75,000 inhabitants, centred around industry or technology which would be integrated with housing and agriculture, in effect a form of (liberal) corporatism. He thought that this would be the best way to combine the needs of an industrial society with the values of a traditional one.

These autonomous communities would have their own government, legislature, scientific and academic organisations and, as in Switzerland, they would be organized into a national Federation. They would each represent the ‘spazio naturale dell’uomo’, defined by the natural limits of human social relationships and geography. For a community to function properly, argued Olivetti, its citizens must be in touch with one another and as much as possible with their political leaders. Direct contact with the natural world was also vital. Olivetti was promoting a sustainable society decades before the term was invented.

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On his return from Switzerland in 1945 Olivetti founded a journal, a publishing group, and the Movimento di Comunità, keen to disseminate his ideas as Italy was re-building after the war. The Movimento was to be a forum for debate and education, and it established community centres throughout Italy which provided a variety of services as well as spreading the ideas of its founder. It also moved into the political arena by entering the elections in 1953 (not very successfully, although Olivetti became an MP in 1958).

To have some influence on the planning of post-war Italy Olivetti had joined the administration of UNRRA-Casas, the agency tasked with the recovery programme in the country immediately after the war. As part of the decentralisation policy of Comunità he wanted to take some of his production away from the concentrated industrial areas of northern Italy. He decided to build a factory in the impoverished south of the country where he would have the opportunity to put some of his ideas into practice. The site Olivetti chose for the 30,000 sq. metre building was on an elevated position overlooking the Golfo di Napoli, about 15 kilometres west of Naples,  in the volcanic area known as the Campi Flegrei.

To design his building Olivetti commissioned Luigi Cosenza (1905-1984), a Neapolitan architect and urban planner, who was a member of the Association of Organic Architecture and a Communist. This was not to be a traditional industrial shed – his brief from Olivetti was to harmonise the requirements of the factory with the landscape, introduce as much natural light and ventilation as possible, and make the most of the views across the bay. Both the plan and clever section achieved this in a spectacular way.

IMG_5699Concept sketch by Luigi Cosenza

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The cross-shaped plan satisfied the production requirements while integrating the building into the sloping site. The narrow cross-section with fully glazed elevations gave employees direct views to the outside, overlooking landscaped courtyards or the sea. The glazing was protected from the sun with overhanging ledges and louvres, and extensive opening vents provided cross-ventilation from the sea breezes. Olivetti’s desire to bring nature into the workplace was masterfully achieved. It must have been wonderful to work there, particularly when you were living in the impoverished south of Italy after the devastation of WW2.

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assemblaggiosumma15View of main production hall showing the elegant and simple structure designed by the engineers Adriano Galli and Pietro Ciaravolo. Full height windows (shaded where necessary) overlook landscaped gardens. High level vents bring in Mediterranean breezes. 

The factory looks more like a modern office park or university campus with its large areas of glazing overlooking gardens or the sea. The integration of the landscape into an industrial environment had never been done before, and has not been attempted again with the same success. The landscaping was designed by Pietro Porcinai to adapt the building to its setting, and a colour scheme was developed by the great Olivetti designer Marcello Nizzoli (creator of the classic Lettera 22 portable typewriter) based on the those found in nearby Pompeii. The site also incorporated a canteen (Mensa on the plan) with views over the sea, a Social Services centre (Assistenza Sociale) with medical and other facilities, a library (Biblioteca), and a training centre for apprentices.

mensapozzuoliCanteen overlooking the Bay of Naples

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In line with Olivetti’s social programme a residential neighbourhood for employees was built nearby, also designed by Cosenza. This included primary and secondary schools, a church, shops, cinema and a summer camp, all set in beautiful landscaping.

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The factory was hugely successful throughout the 50s and 60s, employing 1,300 workers at its opening and continually expanding to Cosenza’s pre-arranged plan. Following the company’s decline in the 1990s it has now become a technology centre, occupied by Vodafone amongst others. In these times of zero-hours contracts and the minimum wage, criticisms of Amazon, Apple, Samsung, Walmart, and many other firms for their poor working practices, tax avoidance, and vast pay differentials between bosses and workers, it is difficult now to imagine a company that would spare no expense or effort to support the physical and mental welfare of its employees. Pozzuoli was conceived by a visionary industrialist and a left-wing architect who both shared the belief that politics and architecture were inseparable. Sixty years later it still remains the most humane and beautiful factory ever built, a part of the remarkable legacy of Adriano Olivetti.

Olivetti died of a heart attack in February 1960 on the Milan to Lausanne express at the age of 58. His son, Roberto, took over and the company continued to be at the forefront of design, architecture and employee welfare for another two decades, despite increasing financial problems. It had some notable technological successes such as producing the first personal computer, the Programma 101 in 1965, but following a disastrous hostile takeover of Telecom Italia in 1999 it ended up being swallowed by the much larger company and now produces rather ordinary looking tablets and other electronic devices.

IMG_5719Current Google Earth view of the factory with later extensions to the north

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Pozzuoli 2Views of the factory (not luxury offices!), now a technology centre

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“At Pozzuoli, facing one of the most beautiful bays in the world, we built our factory. In its handsome functionalism, its carefully studied organization and its cultural and assistance services which equal those previously established in Ivrea, it bears out our aim of placing technology at the service of man.” AO in ‘Olivetti 1908-1958’

OLIVETTI vs APPLE

Some recent commentators and Italian documentaries have made a rather simplistic connection between Adriano Olivetti and Steve Jobs as entrepreneurs with design-led technology companies who both died at the peak of their careers. This shows a complete misunderstanding and ignorance of Olivetti’s philosophy and approach to business. Not just one of Italy’s leading industrialists or even a philanthropist, he was a socialist intellectual, urban theorist and planner, for whom good design and ‘the product’ were only a part of a much wider picture of how industry could and should contribute to the community and its workers. It is impossible to separate Olivetti the industrialist from (Italian) politics, whereas Jobs never had a serious political thought in his life.

Olivetti’s conviction that a company’s profits should be re-invested for the benefit of the community would be an alien concept to Apple, a firm with a cash pile of $200 billion achieved through rock-bottom labour costs and clever tax arrangements. As is quite evident in Walter Isaacson’s biography (and the recent Danny Boyle biopic), the Product was everything to the obsessive Jobs; his employees were secondary.

You only have to compare Cosenza’s light-filled masterpiece at Pozzuoli to the sunless interior of one of the factories making Apple products (below) to see the gulf between the two companies. The Californian management and designers at Apple will be moving into a spectacular new building by Foster Associates whereas the people who make their iPhones and iPads have had to put up with an appalling working environment which has resulted in protests and suicides.

Unsurprisingly, as businesses are usually short-term profit or dividend driven, Pozzuoli has had no influence at all on the design of industrial buildings. Sixty years later most have become the ‘source of suffering’ that Adriano Olivetti took so much care to avoid with his beautiful building in its gardens overlooking the Bay of Naples, designed to enhance the lives of his workers, rather than ‘diminish their spirit’. Looking at the factory interiors below his words at the opening of Pozzuoli in 1955 seem just as relevant today:

‘…We wanted nature to be part of the life of the factory rather than being excluded by a building which was too large, in which the windowless walls, air conditioning, and artificial light would diminish, day by day, the spirit of those working there…’

foxconn_undercover_02Foxconn factory, China

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAClothing factory, Bangladesh

Google Moto X factory, Fort WorthFlextronics factory, Texas

 

Photo and Illustration Credits

Photograph of 1936 Olivetti ICO factory extension – Tommaso Franzolini, founder/director of the Architectural Association Visiting School, Ivrea

Other black and white photographs, plan and section of factory, illustration of original Ivrea factory and early poster –  Associazione Archivio Storico Olivetti

Coloured sketches by Luigi Cosenza, and colour photographs of factory – Archivio Luigi Cosenza/La Fabricca Olivetti a Pozzuoli book (see below)

Aerial view of factory – Google Earth 

Foxconn factory – Shanghai Evening Post undercover reporter Wang Yu

Clothing factory – Fahad Faisal  via Wikimedia Commons

Flextronics factory (Google Moto X smartphones) – Google Street View  (the factory opened in 2013 after a $25m re-fit and closed at the end of 2014!)

Book 

La Fabbrica Olivetti a Pozzuoli (Italian/English text) by Gianni and Anna Cosenza. A really excellent in depth description of the project with superb photographs. Published by Clean Edizioni ISBN 88-8497-020-2 and available from their online shop.

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Links

Most of these are in Italian which sadly demonstrates just how quickly Olivetti and Pozzuoli have been forgotten outside Italy.

The story of Pozzuoli from the Olivetti Archive:

http://www.storiaolivetti.it/percorso.asp?idPercorso=640

Bios of Adriano Olivetti:

http://www.storiaolivetti.it/percorso.asp?idPercorso=607

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adriano_Olivetti

Movimento di Comunità (Adriano Olivetti Foundation):

http://www.fondazioneadrianolivetti.it/lafondazione_speciali.php?id_speciali=18

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_Movement

Bio of Luigi Cosenza:

http://www.luigicosenza.it/doc/biografia/biografia.htm

Note (1)

Olivetti wrote (unpublished notes for the Olivetti History 1908-58) that ‘Fascism had shattered my aspirations to journalism and my resistance to joining my father’s factory was weakening.’

He had become disillusioned with politics as well:

‘From 1919-1924, during my years at the Polytechnic Institute, I witnessed the failure of the socialist revolution. I can still picture the great parade of two hundred thousand people on May Day 1922 in Turin; but there was no one intellectually capable of channelling this great human impulse towards a better way of life….’ Olivetti History 1908-58

Posted in Architecture, Olivetti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Great Designers Remembered – Pier Giorgio Perotto and the first PC

This month marks the 50th Anniversary of the launch of the world’s first commercially produced personal computer, the Olivetti Programma 101, during the Business Equipment Exhibition at the New York World’s Fair in October 1965. No, it wasn’t IBM, Hewlett-Packard, or Xerox who came up with the first one, but a small team of five brilliant engineers working for Olivetti in Ivrea, northern Italy, led by Pier Giorgio Perotto (1930-2002).

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At least 10 years ahead of its time, the revolutionary 101 was a genuine computer, though of course very simple by today’s standards. It could be programmed, had data storage, a display (albeit only two lamps, blue and red!), keyboard, and printer, all contained in an elegant casing designed by Mario Bellini. Perotto’s team invented the magnetic card to input data. You only had to put it on your desk and plug it in to a normal electrical socket. Perotto and Bellini had designed it to be as easy to use as a typewriter.

P101-teamProgramma 101 Design Team – Gastone Garziera back left, Giancarlo Toppi back right, Pier Giorgio Perotto front left, Giovanni De Sandre front right (Giuliano Gaiti not present)

Perotto later spoke of his vision for the Programma 101:

“I dreamed of a friendly machine to which you could delegate all those menial tasks which are prone to errors. A machine that could quietly learn and perform tasks, that could store simple data and instructions, that could be used by anyone, that would be inexpensive and the size of other office products which people used. I had to create a new language which did not need interpreters in white coats.”

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Until the 101 arrived access to computers was restricted to programmers and IT specialists, using punched cards and large reels of magnetic tape, often at only booked times. These main-frame computers needed their own air-conditioned rooms with heavy duty power supplies and raised access floors. The 101 enabled normal office or academic users to operate their own computer on their desks. Relatively cheap compared with a main-frame computer at $3,200 (although equivalent to nearly $24,000 today!), the 101 proved to be a huge commercial success for Olivetti, with over 44,000 sold. NASA bought several Programma 101s for the Apollo 11 moon landing, which took up rather less space than the IBM 7090 computers in the 1960s NASA computer room above!

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Olivetti had pioneered electronic computers from the mid 1950s. The Elea 9003 was Italy’s first electronic computer, and the first of a very successful series. However following the death of Adriano Olivetti in 1960 the company got into severe financial difficulties after buying the giant US Underwood company and the electronics division was sold off to General Electric early in 1965. Before then Olivetti’s son, Roberto, had given the go ahead in 1962 for the development of a small ‘desk-top’ computer This had reached an advanced stage by the time of the take-over and to avoid their project being swallowed up by GE, Perotto’s team changed some of the specification of the 101 to make it appear to be a ‘calculator’ rather than a ‘computer’ which meant the project could stay with Olivetti.

Even so, the potential for the 101 was not really appreciated by the Olivetti management once Roberto Olivetti had left the company. It was included on the Olivetti stand at the 1965 World’s Fair in New York, but rather in the background, as the firm was more interested in promoting their latest calculators. Despite this the 101 was a sensation, both the press and public astonished that something so small could be a fully working computer. Some even thought it was connected to a larger computer behind the scenes. Olivetti realised they had a huge hit on their hands, and full production and sales began in early 1966.

It wasn’t until Hewlett-Packard launched its HP9100A in 1968 that the 101 had some serious competition. However, this was technically similar to the Olivetti machine and HP ended up paying the Italians $900,000 in royalties for copying many aspects of the 101, including the magnetic card.

Outside Italy Perotto’s name is not as well known as it should be, though the National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park (Milton Keynes, UK) has a Programma 101 on display, and the nickname for the 101 is the ‘Perottina’. In 1991 Perotto received the prestigious Premio Leonardo da Vinci for his development of the first personal computer. Few realise now that Olivetti was the true pioneer in personal computing, and not one of the better known US computer companies. The Programma 101 is only mentioned briefly as a ‘calculator’ (pp 212-213) in the chapter about Personal Computers in Paul Ceruzzi’s well-known book A History of Modern Computing where he claims that Altair invented the PC in 1974!

Perotto’s home town, Cavaglià, near to the Olivetti epicentre of Ivrea, in Piedmont, has a wild flower and rock garden dedicated to his memory as the ‘creator of the first personal computer’.

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PHOTO CREDITS

Programma 101 design team – Associazione Archivio Storico Olivetti

Programma 101 on display at the National Museum of Computing – Wikimedia Commons, author AlisonW (October 2009)

NASA Computer Room with IBM 7090 computers – NASA archives

Giardini Perotto,  Cavaglià – Wikimedia Commons, author Sciking (May 2015)

LINKS

Nothing in the UK press but La Stampa celebrated the anniversary!

http://www.lastampa.it/2015/10/14/tecnologia/olivetti-MQlYiMynKSxdUZsWdrftsI/pagina.html

An excellent description of the technical aspects of the Programma 101:

http://www.curtamania.com/curta/database/brand/olivetti/Olivetti%20Programma%20101/

From the Storia Olivetti site (based on the Olivetti archives):

http://www.storiaolivetti.it/percorso.asp?idPercorso=630

A well written blog post on the Programma 101 story:

http://royal.pingdom.com/2012/08/28/the-first-pc-from-1965/

Perotto’s son has a site devoted to his father’s memory:

http://www.piergiorgioperotto.it/piergiorgioperotto.aspx

Perotto wrote a book about designing the 101:

Programma 101 – L’invenzione del personal computer, una storia appassionante mai raccontata. G. Perotto. Sperling & Kupfer 1995

Posted in Computers, Italian Design, Olivetti, Personal Computers, product design | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Miniature Masterpiece – Leica FIKUS Variable Lens Hood

A series of posts celebrating the early Leica camera accessory, ingenious and often beautiful small masterpieces of functional design. Ernst Leitz produced the first ‘system’ camera in 1930 (the Leica 1 Model C), and by 1933 the accessory catalogue ran to over 100 pages. These were so well designed from the start that many were still in production over 20 years later. See the first post for the Leica story.

This beautifully made lens hood is a classic example of the quality and ingenuity of the Leica accessory. Introduced in 1932 it can be used for several lenses to save carrying around a separate hood for each one. The base ring clamps around the end of the lens (A36 size or 36mm diameter) and the outer black hood slides up and down to suit each focal length and is then clamped into position. The inner sleeve is engraved with settings for different lenses. This is an early type which shows a setting for the Hektor 5cm f2.5 lens. The 1933 catalogue (below) describes and shows a setting for the 3.5cm wide angle Elmar lens on the same line as the Hektor but this was not shown as an option in the 1936 catalogue, presumably because it must have cut off some of the image (vignetting)! Very rare early hoods have a marking for the 5cm f2 Summar lens instead. The usual settings are 5cm, 9cm and 13.5cm, later in mm, then back to cm.

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FIKUS 1933 brochure

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Because the inner sleeve is nickel plated it is lined in black felt to avoid reflections. The outer black hood is lined in fine grooves for the same reason. Later types had the same grooves on both the hood and base sleeve.

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The little box it comes in is typically Leica. Beautifully made in humble cardboard, it has colour matched velvet lining to the top and bottom. Over 80 years old it is still in perfect condition. This is the earliest style of Leica packaging from 1925 up to the early 30s. Later boxes came in dark red then a lighter red in the early 50s.

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A 1932 Leica II range-finder camera shown with the FIKUS attached to an Elmar 5cm standard lens…..

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…..and to a rare Elmar 13.5cm telephoto lens, a very impressive looking vintage ensemble!

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A portrait of the great Leica photographer Dr. Paul Wolff in the 1930s with a FIKUS and VIDOM viewfinder attached to his Leica.

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This is the 1950s version of the hood in satin chrome, with lens markings in cm and later packaging style. Shown on a 5cm Elmar/If and 9cm Elmar/IIIf. The FIKUS was produced for over 30 years, only ending production in 1965.

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Links to other posts in the series:

RASAL and ROSOL Frame Finders

APDOO Self-timer, WINKO and WINTU Angular Viewfinders, and AUFSU Reflecting Viewfinder

VISOR, VIDOM, and VIOOH Viewfinders

Photograph of Paul Wolff:

Archiv Dr. Paul Wolff & Alfred Tritschler

Paul Wolff was the photographer who did the most to popularise the Leica and 35mm photography in the 20s and 30s with many books and articles. All his negatives were lost in WW2 but a gallery in Salzburg has many of his surviving prints and is apparently publishing a book on Wolff with an exhibition. Timing not known. The photographer and Leica enthusiast Thorsten Overgaard has an interesting piece about Wolff on his blog:

http://www.overgaard.dk/the-story-behind-that-picture-0122_gb-Dr-Paul_Wolff.html

The ‘bible’ for accessory aficionados is ‘Leica, An Illustrated History, Volume III – Accessories’ by James Lager (1998 ISBN 0-9636973-3-1)

Posted in 1930s photography, Cameras | Tagged , ,

Disappointing Designs – Apple Watch

Being an Apple fan since my first Macintosh I wasn’t expecting to be disappointed by the Apple Watch. I tried out the Sport version recently which seemed well made and there are some great features and apps, but crucially it just didn’t look or feel right on the wrist. I was hoping that Apple would re-invent the wrist device as they did the mobile ‘phone, and some of the early ideas using flexible screens looked exciting. Unfortunately the final product looks too much like a shrunken iPhone (but even thicker) and doesn’t generate enough ‘must-have’ feelings for me to reach for my credit card, despite a good review on cnet:

http://www.cnet.com/uk/products/apple-watch/

This skates over the absurdity of the Edition versions of the watch. Why would anyone want to buy one in pink gold for $17,000 (plus a ludicrous $1,500 for two years of ‘support’)? The same people who buy jewel encrusted Vertu mobile ‘phones I expect. Apart from the fact it will be out of date in a year or so when version 2 comes out, it has exactly the same innards as the $349 watch (which apparently costs around $200 to make). If you really want a rectangular pink gold watch spend a bit more to have the craftsmanship and pedigree of a slimmer and more elegant Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Duo and an Apple Watch Sport. The Reverso will last forever and you can keep changing the Apple Watch!

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Alternatively the new Samsung Gear S2 smart watch is tempting me to ditch iOS in favour of Samsung’s new Tizen OS! It looks terrific, has faces designed by Alessandro Mendini instead of Mickey Mouse, and does what the Apple Watch does but far more stylishly. The round face is like a conventional watch and because of the clever strap it sits much more elegantly on the wrist than its lumpy rectangular competitor.

This got me thinking about the earliest ‘smart’ mechanical wristwatches – ie a wrist device which doesn’t just tell the time. One of my favourite watches is the old Breitling Navitimer 806 (lh) which was designed in 1952 as a development of their beautiful 1940s Chronomat (rh). It incorporates a circular slide rule for pilots to work out their air speed, rate of climb, fuel consumption, and other conversions. Breitling referred to it as a ‘Flight Computer’.

The Chronomat was patented in 1941 as a watch with a built in slide rule for maths, scientific and engineering uses. It was made in various forms right up to Breitling’s financial difficulties in the late 70s. The current rather ‘blingy’ Chronomat has no relationship at all to this wonderful vintage watch.

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The very first ‘smart watch’ was probably the Meyrat & Perdrizet Pocket-Watch Calculator produced in France from the 1880s which had a circular slide rule surrounding a very small traditional watch dial. However, the prize for the earliest ‘smart’ wristwatch must go to the elegant but obscure Swiss-made Mimo Loga which also had a built-in circular slide rule – ‘A calculating machine in a watch’. It was introduced in 1941 just before the Chronomat but, unlike the latter, it has vanished without trace.

Photo credits:

JLC Reverso Duo – courtesy of Jaeger-LeCoultre

Chronomat – from forums.watchuseek website below

Mimo Loga ad from History of Smart Watch blog below

Links:

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Duo – one of the all time classic watches:

http://www.jaeger-lecoultre.com/GB/en/collections/reverso

http://basepath.com/watches/Reviews/JLCReverso/JLCreview.htm

An excellent source for the history of the early Chronomat:

http://forums.watchuseek.com/f39/breitling-chronomat-short-history-part-1-slide-rule-chronomats-9103.html

And for the Navitimer:

http://forums.watchuseek.com/f39/breitling-navitimer-brief-history-most-famous-breitling-all-25057.html

http://people.timezone.com/breitling/bfaq/Reviews–Navitimer.html

For the M&P Pocket-Watch Calculator:

www.oughtred.org/jos/articles/Wyman_M&PB.pdf

And for the Mimo Loga and Chronomat:

http://www.invenitetfecit.com/modeles/page-breitlingchronomat.html

The History of the Smart Watch:

https://bhtooefr.org/blog/2012/03/04/the-history-of-the-smart-watch-part-1-calculation-and-entertainment/

Posted in Design, watch design | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,