Fiat’s first factory is an architectural lair

Bana Bissat
4 min readNov 11, 2016

Take Turin’s metro to its last stop South, Lingotto, and you’ll find yourself in what Le Corbusier thought to be one of the neatest sights in the automobile industry. The Lingotto district was Fiat’s first factory until 1982 when it became too snug, too outdated, and they made the move elsewhere. Largely inspired by Ford, the avant-garde factory secured the title of largest automobile plant in Italy in its heyday, and its primary owner, Giovanni Agnelli, the richest.

Genoan Starchitect Renzo Piano (who’s so glorified in the city, he’s bound to have an eponymous street sooner than later) snagged Fiat’s competition call in 1982 to repurpose the now-defunct factory, transforming it into what appears to be one of the eeriest entertainment complexes in the world, complete with a shopping mall, concert halls, Eataly’s flagship store, and a myriad of other functional spaces.

Besides Lingotto’s occasional star events like Club to Club and Artissima — the country’s largest electronic music festival and its largest art show — Lingotto isn’t a top destination for the Lonely Planet traveller who is likely to stick around Piazza San Carlo and the baroque-architecture that is particular of the center. Though it looks nothing of the sort, the area is continuously referred to as a ghetto. Regardless, the factory continues to be a huge source of pride and a reminder of Turin’s industrial peak.

The district’s distance from the historical city center means modern architecture thrives here and there’s much room for structural exploration. Like every architect hailed for an adaptive reuse commission, Piano had no plans to overhaul the factory’s architecture when he stepped in. It represented plenty to the Torinese that it would have been blasphemous to interfere with its futuristic, naked concrete and its rich industrial identity.

Interior Ramp. Photo: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra
Interior Ramp. Photo: Bana Bissat

Today, Fiat’s test circuit stands true to its original inception in 1915, the chitchat of passersby holding trade show catalogues to their chest echoing upwards into and through the brutalist structure as they head out of Artissima or whatever grandiose fair is happening at the moment. Above them gawks the ghost of what was once the talk of the town — a spiral, helix-shaped ramp that transports the glossiest Fiats from top to bottom and off to the showrooms.

The Test Track. Photo: Nicolas Nova

It connects to the test track, the site where completed automobiles wheeled out their very first moments. A scene from the 1969 film The Italian Job set on the ramp makes it Lingotto’s hotspot, in addition to the fact that a decent view of the Alps is warranted. The test circuit provides no function to Lingotto besides tourism and a sight of awe, one that is more than fascinating for the average Joe who’s never stepped foot in an automobile factory.

8 Gallery and The Bubble. Photo: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra

With a panoramic view of the test track is Piano’s “Bubble”, a suspended steel-and-glass dome structure that acts as a meeting room and likely hosts stellar sunset meetings. It’s accompanied with its very own helicopter pad. Access inside isn’t open to visitors, but the view of the Bubble is impossible to avoid across Lingotto’s spaces. It stands atop what is now a shopping mall of over 90 stores.

Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli. Photo: Marco Musmeci

Matisse and Picasso are inescapable, even in Turin. They’re exhibited amongst the Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli collection of 25 works. The museum is a new addition, the Agnelli family’s message of thanks to their home city, or perhaps even a generous request for remembrance. While the modest quantity of works might dismay visitors, the architectural marvel is a visit by itself and grants open access to the Fiat test track. Opened in 2002, Piano’s structure looks like a ship suspended in the air, lifting a “flying carpet”. Not his magnum opus, but certainly his pride and joy.

The NH Torino Lingotto Tech Hotel

For autophiles, a factory-turned-boutique-hotel might be an exciting proposition that Airbnb can’t offer. The 4-star NH Torino Lingotto Tech preserves the high ceilings and large windows of the production facilities and offers guest “jogging access” on the test ramp. Despite Renzo Piano’s efforts to warm down the factory vibes, TripAdvisor reviews like Chris75’s “the hotel itself has a kind of cold design” are unavoidable.

The spot where a Fiat factory worker whipped out a cigarette after a long shift in the mid-1900s is now — very possibly — a spot where a hotel guest is engulfed in a steamy Turkish bath, waiting for the International Dog Show to kick off in the trade center right next door.

All images are licensed under Creative Commons

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Bana Bissat

News and analysis on editorial strategy and content marketing for luxury brands. Written by Bana Bissat, a Milan-based freelancer. bananacouncil.com