PIER LUIGI NERVI
 
 
 
 
  Name Pier Luigi Nervi
     
  Born June 21, 1891
     
  Died January 9, 1979
     
  Nationality Italy
     
  School  
     
  Official website  
     
 
BIOGRAPHY
   

Pier Luigi Nervi was one of the great engineers of the 20th
century who applied his engineering innovations to the design
of buildings. From the 1930s to the 1960s, he built a variety of
public building types in Italy and around the world, ranging
from airport hangars to skyscrapers to stadiums. In many of his
designs, Nervi made novel use of modern materials, especially
concrete, to create his trademark style. He opened his first office
in 1920, called Nervi and Nebbiosi, in Rome and practiced his
craft for almost 50 years. In 1932, the name of the practice
was changed to Nervi and Bartoli. Believing architecture and
engineering to be interrelated, Nervi designed his structures with
an eye to knowing laws of nature, materials, and construction.

Important buildings by Nervi begin with the Municipal Stad-
ium of Florence (1932), with a grandstand constructed of dra-
matic cantilevered reinforced-concrete beams and a helectical
concrete staircase. Immediately, Nervi displayed his virtuoso skill
in the manipulation of concrete structures, molding them into
dynamic configurations that always retain their structural pur-
pose and integrity. “An architect is a builder, not an artist,” he

said in his Norton Lectures delivered in 1961-62 at Harvard
University. The beauty and dynamism of the forms come from
their structural capacities and necessities, not from an applied
aesthetic. A good structural solution has an inherent aesthetic
force; thus, aesthetic theories were not necessary in architecture.
‘The building is conceived as a structural organism, exploiting
the qualities of the materials with which it is built. In the case
of Nervi’s public works, the materials are mainly steel and rein-
forced concrete.

Between 1935 and 1955, Nervi built a series of airplane hang-
ars, exhibition halls, and stadiums with long-span concrete roof
structures, ribbed reinforced-concrete trusses, and assembled
precast-concrete components. With his particular understanding
of concrete’s potential for an expressive combination of strength
and beauty, Nervi utilized two important concrete construction
methods in his buildings, both of which have continued to define
the structural limits of concrete. Nervi’s buildings, like others
of concrete, use reinforced concrete that is cast in place or from
prefabricated forms, creating carefully engineered structures that
this architect and theorist imbued with an enduring sense of
simplicity and power. In this way, some believe, Nervi rivals
Mies van der Rohe as a pioneer in the adaptation of building

materials and technology in the 20th century. Nervi’s most com-
pelling structures include the Turin Exhibition Hall, with a
vaulted roof and a perimetric roof system of precast beams in a
material called “ferro-cement.” Ferro-cement combines rein-
forced concrete and several layers of fine steel mesh sprayed with
cement mortar. This malleable material provides strength and
elasticity as a building material and enabled Nervi to sculpt his
dynamic structures. Whereas the structural necessities of the
building create its aesthetic, the “structural architecture” of Nervi
is based on the combination of structural-analysis, static systems,
and tension and compression in materials. Other factors in the
design of his buildings are economic efficiency (as in the low-cost
production of steel and concrete), the technology of the con-
struction, and the functional requirements of the building.

All these factors were optimized by Nervi in a series of impor-
tant buildings realized between 1955 and 1961. Nervi included
these designs in a book called New Structures in 1963. These
structures include the UNESCO Headquarters (1958, in collab-
oration with Marcel Breuer and others) in Paris, the Pirelli Build-
ing (1959, in collaboration with Gid Ponti and others) in Milan,
and the three sports stadiums built in Rome for the Olympic
Games in 1961: the Palazetto dello Sport (Small Sports Palace,
1957), the Palazzo dello Sport (Large Sports Palace, 1958), and
the Flaminio Stadium (1958). The Palazzo per Lavoro (1961,
Worker's Palace) in Turin has mushroom columns and floor
slabs with ribs following isostatic lines of bending movements,
which were also applied to the Gatti Wool Factory (1951) in
Rome. Nervi’s Port Authority Station (1962) at George Wash-
ington Bridge in New York City is characterized by triangulated
roof trusses. The Nathaniel Leverone Field House (1962) at

Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, features a
vaulted construction. The Cathedral of Saint Mary (1971) in
San Francisco features a roof made from large cement slabs in
the form of a cross. The Aula delle udienze pontificie (Papal
Audience Hall, 1971) in Vatican City in Rome is constructed
in elastic structural forms sculpted in white cement.

Nervi expressed his ideas about architecture in several books
and articles, including Arte o scienza del costruire (1945; The Art
and Science of Construction), Costruire correttamente (1954; To
Construct Correctly), Structures (1956), and Aesthetics and Tech-
nology in Building (1961-62; The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures,
Harvard University). For many architectural historians, Nervi
joins Frank Lloyd Wright for his profound grasp of the meaning
of materials and their intricate relationship with nature and
methods of construction, and both were fearless experimenters.
In 1962, Nervi received honorary degrees from Dartmouth Col-
lege and Harvard University. Contemporary with Kenzo Tange,
Nervi was the architectural craftsman par excellence of the 20th
century, making use of the structural capabilities and malleability
of steel and precast concrete to create large-scale urban projects
that answer the demands of modern functions and make opti-
mum use of modern technologies. All of Nervi’s buildings are
intricate structures of grace and elegance born from an insightful
understanding of the structural capabilities of materials and a
rigorous adherence to the role of the architect as servicing the
functional needs of a society. He was awarded a Gold Medal by
the Royal Institute of British Architects, the American Institute

of Architects, and the Academi d’Architecture.
Joun HENDRIX

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
TIMELINE
    Born in Sondrio, Italy, 21 June 1891. Graduated with a degree
in engineering from the University of Bologna 1913. Married
Irene Calosin 1924: 3 children. Served in the Italian Army
1915-18. Engineer with the Society for Cement Construction,
Bologna 1913-15 and 1918-23. In private practice, Rome from
1923; partner, Nervi and Nebbiosi 1923-32; president, Nervi
and Bartolia from 1932-60; partner with sons Antonio, Mario,
and Vittorio, Studio Nervi from 1960; consultant engineer,
UNESCO, Paris 1952. Professor of the technique of construc-
tion, faculty of architecture, University of Rome 1947—61. Hon-
orary member, American Institute of Architects 1956; honorary
member, National Institute of Arts and Letters 1957; foreign
member, Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm 1957; corre-
sponding member, Academia Nacional de Ciencias Exactas Fisi-
cas y Naturales, Buenos Aires 1959; corresponding member,
Bayerischen Akademie der Schénen Kiinste, Munich 1960;
member, Accademia di San Luca, Rome 1960; honorary mem-
ber, American Academy of Arts and Sciences 1960; member,
Royal Institute of Dutch Engineers 1964; member, Akademie
der Kiinste, Berlin 1964; member, Institut des Beaux-Arts, Paris
1973; foreign member, Institut de France, Paris 1973. Gold
Medal, Royal Institute of British Architects 1960; Gold Medal,
American Institute of Architects 1964. Died in Rome, 9 January
1979.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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