Since it was founded in 1872, Pirelli has been aware that it plays a major role in promoting civic progress in all the communities in which it operates. For this reason, for over 140 years, Pirelli’s corporate culture has been based on its ability to create interaction between technology and the humanities, scientific research and experimentation, in order to promote a cutting-edge brand of polytechnic culture. Right from the start of the twentieth century, the innovation that characterises the company’s products is also reflected in its culture and communication strategy.
In 1948, Leonardo Sinisgalli, an engineer and a poet and head of communications for the company, created Rivista Pirelli, a periodical published each month until 1972 and a vessel for one of Italy’s most highly evolved cultural debates, bringing together both technical and scientific content with other content ranging from art to architecture. Contributors to the magazine included some of Italy’s leading intellectuals, names such as Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino, Salvatore Quasimodo, Eugenio Montale and Giulio Carlo Argan. From the 1950s to the 1980s, some of the greatest graphic artists, creative designers, photographers and contemporary artists were involved in designing the company’s products and marketing campaigns. This included people like Bruno Munari, Bob Noorda, Ugo Mulas, Alessandro Mendini, Alan Fletcher, Gabriele Basilico and Silvio Soldini.
Pirelli has always been a great patron of the arts. In 1950, the company hired Gio Ponti to design the Pirelli Tower, which was to become one of the symbols of Milan, and commissioned Renato Guttuso to paint “La Ricerca Scientifica” for the International Labour Expo in Turin in 1961. This work would then be the inspiration for the mosaic of the same name, which is still on display at the Pirelli Foundation.
Beginning in 1964, innovation in the visual arts would also be embodied in the Pirelli Calendar, which featured work over the years by greats from the world of photography such as Richard Avedon, Annie Leibovitz, Peter Lindbergh, Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber, Karl Lagerfeld and Steve McCurry. Then there was the wonderful photography of Pirelli’s ad campaigns, including the legendary campaign of 1994 featuring the work of Anni Leibovitz, who shot world champion Carl Lewis wearing a pair of red high-heeled shoes.
Since 1985, the historic Bicocca area of Milan, one of the most industrialised areas in Europe, has been involved in a lengthy process of urbanisation that will eventually cover some 120,000 square metres of surface area. The architect for the project is Vittorio Gregotti, who, in 2005, made the decision to keep the spectacular cooling tower at the heart of Pirelli’s new headquarters. During this same period, the gigantic HangarBicocca was converted into a space for the exhibition of contemporary art. In the 2000s, the latest work of cutting-edge architecture involved the facilities at Settimo Torinese, where Renzo Piano created “Spina”, an area that is now home to research centres and other services for the new industrial complex there.
In 2009, aware of the fact that the organisation’s rich heritage was of great value both to the company itself and to society as a whole, the Pirelli Foundation was created with the goal of safeguarding the company’s historical heritage and promoting its corporate culture through exhibitions, conferences and partnerships with other cultural organisations. In 2013, the Pirelli Foundation made all issues of Rivista Pirelli available to the public for online viewing on its web site at fondazionepirelli.org.
Pirelli’s work at HangarBicocca is another example of these efforts. This space for contemporary art was relaunched in April 2012 in line with a new approach to this cultural project, which features investment in a wide range of areas and the company’s long-term commitment to creating a world-class centre for contemporary art for the city of Milan and for the public at large. In fact, contemporary art is one of the best ways to convey the values of openness to diversity, the ability to interpret the future, and a quest for excellence, which are just a few of the cornerstones on which Pirelli’s corporate culture is based.
Finally, Pirelli’s corporate culture is also expressed in its relations with leading proponents of culture and the arts, such as Il Piccolo Teatro and the Franco Parenti Theatre in Milan, the Italian Environmental Fund (FAI), and the Brera Art Museum. The latter is a collaboration not only limited to financing a (very important) series of restoration projects, but also leading to the development of an innovative, highly advanced restoration technology made possible by the apparatus designed by Ettore Sottsass, enabling the lengthy restoration of a work “in public”.