Designed by Giacomo Matté Trucco completed 1916–1926
In 1916 the Italian automobile company Fiat, with Giovanni Agnelli at its helm, began
the construction of a modern factory that would take ten years to build and that
epitomized the American multistory concrete factory as established by architect Albert
Kahn for Henry Ford in the Highland Park Plant outside of Detroit in 1912, but with its
own innovations. Fiat’s earlier factories, typical of the time, were traditional multistoried
brick structures in the center of cities. With Lingotto Fiat Works, Fiat moved out of
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Turin, south of the center, to the west of the Po River on the via Nizza. There they could
improve their production methods and built a production space at an unprecedented scale
for European industries.
In 1912, Agnelli, Fiat’s founder, impressed with Ford’s automobile plants which he
had seen in Detroit, returned to Italy with the desire to build a factory similar both in
construction and production techniques. By hiring an engineer, Giacomo Matté Trucco,
to head the development, Agnelli immediately signaled the direction of the project.
Construction began in 1916 as a way to promote work and labor instead of war. It also
established his dynasty and the company’s growth; similar to the patriarchal attitude of
Ford, he wanted to help the working class.
Matté Trucco, trained at the Politecnico (Polytechnic Institute) of Turin as an
industrial engineer, spearheaded the production engineering and building planning. Based
on Taylor’s scientific theory of efficency for productive work and constant
mechanization of labor force, the production line was a continuous flow from the entering
of the raw materials to the assembly of the parts, and to the completion of a car and was
exemplary in factory design at the time.
The factory complex consisted of a main production building with smaller buildings
for preassembly work, and a separate office building, called the Palazzina (little palace),
completed in 1921. The design of the management offices was more traditional than the
plant itself, with a doric portico at its entrance. The main production building was often
compared to a skyscraper lying on its side and was without cellars or basements. It
comprises two long workshops that run parallel for a third of a mile and connected at the
ends, creating an elongated ring. At regular intervals, the long sides are linked by
towers—two inside and one at each end—to create the four interior courtyards. At the
south end is a square press-shop; on the north, a five-story building is part of the
assembly workshop.
The building composition exemplified efficient auto production of the time: Assembly
was begun on the ground floor, then cars were then taken up spiral ramps to consecutive
upper floors for further assembly and, finally, to the roof for a test drive on the track. This
was actually opposite to the Ford system, where the auto parts were taken up to the top
floor and then the car was assembled as it descended to lower floors and finally out to the
street. However, by the time Fiat Works was built, it was out-of-date, as Ford had begun
his single-volume one-story factories.
Fiat Works is significant as one of the first modular concrete buildings in Europe.
Matté Trucco was influenced by the work of the French engineer François Hennébique,
whose structures Matté Trucco had seen with his engineer father. Matté Trucco repeated
a square reinforced concrete module, 19 feet 8 inches by 19 feet 8 inches by 16 feet 5
inches high, to construct a 1664-foot-long (1/3 mile) by 264-foot-wide and 88-foot-high
building with four interior courtyards.
Within the modular concrete grid there are over 2000 steel sash-awning multiplepaned
windows that admit plenty of daylight to the interior spaces. Square concrete
columns with chamfered edges that, architectural critic and historian Reyner Banham
noted, were like those in the factories in the United States, are spaced six meters apart to
create as open an interior as possible. More innovative were the perforated horizontal
beams with regular rectangular holes for pipes and conduits.
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The two major engineering accomplishments include the one-kilometer-long rooftop
test track and the two poured-inplace spiral ramps at the north and south ends of the
factory. The truck-size ramps are outstanding sculptural constructions that move cars to
the roof track for testing without eliminating valued manufacturing space. The ramps
were also used for hand trucks and for pulling car parts floor to floor. The ovular rooftop
test track with banked curves at each end allowed cars to be tested at speeds up to 60
miles an hour, exceeding normal highway speeds at the time.
Renowned architects praised Fiat Works when it was completed. Le
Corbusier described the factory after his visit there in the 1920s as where
“the windows in a grille-like pattern are too numerous to count. The top is like that of a taffrail of a ship, with decks, chimneys,
courtyard and catwalks. Surely one of industry’s most impressive sights…. It is the Esprit
Nouveau factory, useful in its precision and with the greatest clarity, elegance and
economy” (Banham, 1986).
Edoardo Persico wrote of it in 1927 as the “ultimate metaphysic of form” and said of
the track, “so here the car and its speed are celebrated in a form that presides over the
work of the factory below, not only in terms of unity but also following a secret standard
that governs the ends of things.”
The building is significant not only in architectural history but in social history as
well. After it was built, it had to be part of emergency plans for post-World War I
assistance. During the Depression, the company had the normal internal troubles. In
1943, it was bombed, but the structure resisted destruction as Turin workers faced
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Mussolini. Then in the 1980s, when the plant closed, demolition was considered. Instead,
Fiat held an ideas competition for reuse, which architect Renzo Piano won, and
subsequently transformed the building complex into a conference center that opened in

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