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"Art and Science of Building in Concrete: The Work of Pier Luigi Nervi " by Mario Alberto Chiorino

"Art and Science of Building in Concrete: The Work of Pier Luigi Nervi " by Mario Alberto Chiorino

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Published by PLN_Project
Art and Science of
Building in Concrete:
The Work of
Pier Luigi Nervi
International exhibition and ACI Spring 2012 Convention sessions
are dedicated to this grand master of concrete structures
Art and Science of
Building in Concrete:
The Work of
Pier Luigi Nervi
International exhibition and ACI Spring 2012 Convention sessions
are dedicated to this grand master of concrete structures

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: PLN_Project on Mar 05, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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march 2012
Art and Science ofBuilding in Concrete:The Work ofPier Luigi Nervi
Interntionl exhibition nd acI Spring 2012 convention sessionsre dedited to this grnd mster of onrete strutures
by Mario A. Chiorino 
Palazzo del Lavoro in Turin, Italy
(photos courtesy of Istituto Sperimentale Modelli e Strutture (ISMES) archives, MAXXI archives, M. Carrieri, and/or D. Chemise)
march 2012
escribed by Nikolaus Pevsner as “the mostbrilliant artist in reinorced concrete o our time,”Pier Luigi Nervi (1891-1979) (Fig. 1) was one o the greatest and most inventive designers and builders o the 20th century. He shared the cultures o architects andengineers, operating at the very intersection between theart and the science o building. With his masterpiecesscattered the world over, Nervi contributed to the creationo a glorious period or structural architecture.His personality comprised many acets, includingdesigner, builder, researcher, and creator o new construc-tion techniques. He was also a Proessor and Lecturerat prestigious universities around the world and authoro books debating the conceptual and technologicalundaments o construction, with particular regard toconcrete construction.He has been described as having an engineer’s auda-ciousness, an architect’s imagination, and a business-man’s practical realism. His use o the most advancedtechnical solutions always went hand-in-hand not only with the pursuit o ormal elegance but also with anequally strong attention to the technical and economicaspects o the building process.In 2009, on the 30th anniversary o Nervi’s death, abroad research and educational program was promoted with the intent o disseminating Nervi’s cultural legacyand exploring the complexity o his extraordinary statureas a structural artist. The program culminated in theinternational traveling exhibition, “Pier Luigi Nervi–Architecture as Challenge,” highlighting some o hismost celebrated works o genius. This article presents abrie synthesis o this comprehensive exploration o hislie’s work. It also serves as a preview to presentations atthe International Lunch and two technical sessions atthe ACI Spring 2012 Convention in Dallas, TX.
The International Exhibition: Pier LuigiNervi—Architecture as Challenge
A broad research-educational program on Nervi’slie and work started in 2009, and it culminated in theinternational traveling exhibition, “Pier Luigi Nervi—Architecture as Challenge.” The work was promoted bythe Pier Luigi Nervi Project Association (PLN),
theoundation devoted to the dessimination o Nervi’scultural legacy. The program has the scientic supporto the Politecnico di Torino, the University o Rome,and La Cambre-Horta School o Architecture o theUniversity o Brussels. The exhibition was organizedby PLN and the Centre International pour la Ville etl’Architecture (CIVA), Brussels, in cooperation with theItalian National Museum o the Arts o the 21st Centuryin Rome (MAXXI) and the Study Center and Commu-nication Archive (CSAC) o the University o Parma,Italy, under the auspices o the President o the ItalianRepublic and o other prominent institutions, includingthe Vatican City, the European community, and theInternational Olympic Committee. ACI co-sponsoredthe exhibition in recognition o the ACI HonoraryMembership awarded to Nervi in 1969 and in consid-eration o the signicant number o his celebrated works in North America.Accompanied by a catalog assembling the resultso the research program,
the exhibition started itsextremely successul tour in Brussels, Belgium, in 2010.The subsequent venues in Italy included the VeniceBiennale, the MAXXI, and the Turin Exhibition Hall—abuilding designed by Nervi himsel (as shown in Fig. 8).Aer visiting other venues in Denmark, Germany, andSwitzerland, the exhibition is expected to visit venuesin North America in 2013. On this occasion, the reprintby PLN o the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures given byNervi at Harvard
in 1961 will be available.On the eve o the North American tour, it is appropri-ate to dedicate presentations to Pier Luigi Nervi duringsessions on “Structural Concrete: An Art Form” at theACI Spring 2012 Convention in Dallas, TX, in March,particularly because the general convention theme is “Arto Concrete.” The author will deliver the keynote lecture,bearing the same title as this article, at the convention’sInternational Lunch. In two technical sessions, addi-tional speakers will review the work o other eminentpioneers and discuss recent trends in the merging o architecture and structural engineering.
 Pier Luigi Nervi: Architecture as Challenge
, C. Olmo andC. Chiorino, eds., Silvana Editoriale, Cinisello Balsamo, Italy,2010, 240 pp.
Nervi, P.L.,
 Aesthetics and Technology in Buildings
, The CharlesEliot Norton Lectures, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA,1965, 210 pp.
Fig. 1: ACI Honorary Member Pier Luigi Nervi, 1891-1979
march 2012
Early Infuences
Pier Luigi Nervi graduated with a degree in civil engi-neering at the University o Bologna, Italy, in 1913, duringa ertile period or scientic, technical, and architecturalideas. Thanks to the contribution o a ew pioneers, builders,and designers such as Wayss, Hennebique, and Maillart, thenew technology o reinorced concrete was ast developingin the early years o the 20th century. From the very begin-ning, the new eld was associated with a conscious searchor artistic results.
It is against this background that Pier Luigi Nervi’sproessional career began. Aer an initial period o trainingin the technical oce o a construction company, Nervi setup his own design and construction business in 1920. Nervi was to maintain this dual role o designer and builderthroughout his lie.
Early Works
The stadium in Florence (1930, Fig. 2) was Nervi’s rstgreat work that attracted the attention o critics and thepublic—both in Italy and abroad. Besides the intrinsicbeauty o the project, characterized by the elegance andstrong visual impact o the curved tapered corbels o thecantilevered roo and the spatial sculptural orms o thehelicoidally warped stairs, Nervi’s design was chosenbecause o the low construction cost.From 1935 through 1940, a series o great hangars wasbuilt or the Italian air orce at Orvieto (Fig. 3) and Orbetello.Probably inspired by hangars and temporary exhibitionhalls constructed in steel and laminated wood (primarily inGermany), Nervi designed a daring, yet dramatically simplein structure, geodetic roo with intersecting arched ribs.The rst group o hangars was built using traditionalscaolding and wooden orms or the concrete structure.Those that ollowed were built using ribs consisting o precast elements that were connected on-site. From thattime on, the use o precast components would becomea constant in Nervi’s work, as he sought to exploit andmaximize the outstanding compositional and structuralreedoms oered by this technology.The hangars were also the rst structures or which,in addition to static calculations, Nervi relied on tests o 
Fig. 4: Celluloid model of hangar at Orbetello tested at the Modeland Construction Testing Laboratory, Politecnico di Milano, ItalyFig. 2 (left and right): Nervi’s first great work: the stadium in Florence, 1930Fig. 3: Hangar at Orvieto, 1935

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