Conservation of Elea 9003 from the collection of Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci.
Marianna Cappellina / Simona Casonato / Luca Reduzzi
The Elea 9003 computer is a system made by Olivetti in the late 1950s to automate accounting and logistics. The commanding console in the Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo Da Vinci collection, is the central piece of a larger computer system.
It was the first commercial transistor computer produced in Italy and one of the first in the world, though the primacy is still debated by historians.
Due to its technical achievements Elea 9003 is a milestone in the history of technology, but it is also an early example of interdisciplinary collaboration between engineering and the humanities.
A group of brilliant engineers, together with Adriano Olivetti and industrial designer Ettore Sottsass, set new foundations to the way people interact with technology. The computer user interface, its industrial design, its workspace and the way its programs affected business processes, where all thought as interconnected parts of a single whole.
A modular architecture allowed to customize the hardware to customers’ specific needs.
A dynamic keyboard matched it with the software since it was built on a lattice structure which allowed a personal configuration of the keys according to the different hardware settings.
The opportunity to study how to preserve the Elea 9003 provides unique insight into the approach to technical innovation and industrial design of the early years of the digital revolution.
Understanding the philosophical, social and technological impact of such a machine has been instrumental to the choices we made for its restoration.
Each component needs to be though as part of a system, like the keyboard missing pieces, that were initially replaced with neutral parts. This is common practice on artworks, but it makes little sense with a scientific artifact. The study of their functionality allowed us to restore them in a faithful, mimetic and reversible way.
We have also restored mechanical components and made chromatic integrations in order to maximize the impact of the piece in the museum’s collection.
Knowledge of the artifacts’ history was fundamental to be able to intervene with new reconstructive criteria from the past, taking into account not only the technical nature of the object but also its cultural value.