Athena is one of L-class missions selected in the ESA Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 program for the science theme of the Hot and Energetic Universe. The Athena model payload includes the X-ray Integral Field Unit (X-IFU), an advanced actively shielded X-ray microcalorimeter spectrometer for high spectral resolution imaging, utilizing cooled Transition Edge Sensors. This paper describes the preliminary architecture of Instrument Control Unit (ICU), which is aimed at operating all XIFU’s subsystems, as well as at implementing the main functional interfaces of the instrument with the S/C control unit. The ICU functions include the TC/TM management with S/C, science data formatting and transmission to S/C Mass Memory, housekeeping data handling, time distribution for synchronous operations and the management of the X-IFU components (i.e. CryoCoolers, Filter Wheel, Detector Readout Electronics Event Processor, Power Distribution Unit). ICU functions baseline implementation for the phase-A study foresees the usage of standard and Space-qualified components from the heritage of past and current space missions (e.g. Gaia, Euclid), which currently encompasses Leon2/Leon3 based CPU board and standard Space-qualified interfaces for the exchange commands and data between ICU and X-IFU subsystems. Alternative architecture, arranged around a powerful PowerPC-based CPU, is also briefly presented, with the aim of endowing the system with enhanced hardware resources and processing power capability, for the handling of control and science data processing tasks not defined yet at this stage of the mission study.