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4 Luglio 2019

Discovering Villaggio Leumann

Between the past and the present: a journey in the fairy-tale village very close to Turin. It was created as a working-class village for a Swiss textile factory and today it became an eco-museum

Luca Ferrua (translation by Chiara Gariglio)

Entering of Villaggio Leumann

Entering of Villaggio Leumann (photo by Federico Mereu)

Going down to corso Francia, just before the entrance to the highway, the house number 313 might look like the gate to the fairytale land. And yet, what we are facing is not a dream, it is reality: Villaggio Leumann is not just a great example of promotion of the historic heritage, but also a business model of Turin’s industrialization.

The idea was born in Switzerland: just like Ricola candies, the multifunctional knife and the cuckoo clock (which was actually invented in Germany). In the late XIX century the entrepreneur Napoleone Leumann built a new cotton mill close to Collegno. So far everything is normal, in fact Turin had just lost the title of Italian capital and was looking for new investors willing to lead it to the industrial era.
The difference is that the idea of the Helvetic dreamer included something way beyond the building of a simple factory and an annex residential area. So he ordered the engineer Pietro Fenoglio the creation of a small village, a human-sized reality where workers could live with their families. He was convinced of the fact that offering a welcoming environment and free services would have made his employees happier, therefore increasing productivity.
Besides being a far-sighted and innovative construction policy, it was so successful that it also affected the solidarity model of Adriano Olivetti and other great companies such as Fiat.

When you enter the village, also thanks to the pictures of our photographer Federico Mereu, it feels like you are immersed in a parallel reality. In fact, instead of the grey and anonymous architecture that characterizes the industrialization at the beginning of the XX century, here you find an Art Nouveau entrance which characterizes the whole community, Santa Elisabetta church with eclectic elements and small detached houses for employees that can host about 1,000 people, which were equipped with any comfort that the working class in the beginning of XX century could desire, such as running water.
Villaggio Leumann was based on the model of an independent community, in fact here you can find any basic services: a post office, schools, a small clinic and even a train station dedicated to the Turin-Rivoli route.

Unfortunately the textile industry crises of the 70s has brought down the Leumann cotton mill as well, which closed its main activity in 1972 and then definitely closed down in 2007.
However the village survived the closing down of the company, also thanks to the contribution of the Comune di Collegno which took over the property and which has been fighting for years to save the residential area together with the Associazione Amici della Scuola Leumann. Today the non-occupied houses are granted as council houses, whereas other services such as the post office and the schools are still working, allowing former employees to continue living in what today has become an eco-museum.


In collaboration with Study in Torino


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