Pier Luigi Nervi (Sondrio, 1891 - Rome, 1979) was an engineer, creator of some of the absolute icons of twentieth century engineering, from the aircraft hangars in Tuscany to the Italian Embassy in Brasilia. The cycle of exhibitions entitled Pier Luigi Nervi: Architecture as a challenge, coordinated by Carlo Olmo, attempts to outline the shape, thanks to the contribution provided by the Pier Luigi Nervi Association’s Knowledge Management Research Project (Brussels) and the documentation kept at the National Art Museum of the XXI Century / MAXXI (Rome) and the Centre for Communication Studies and Archives / CSAC (Parma). The project was launched in 2010 with a first exhibition in Brussels and continued in Venice and Rome, each time adding new pieces to an extraordinarily complicated mosaic. Beginning April 29 in Turin there is a unique opportunity: to know, see, and study the works of Pier Luigi Nervi in a space designed and built by Pier Luigi Nervi, the Turin Motor Show and Exhibition Center at the edge of the Parco del Valentino. Here twelve case studies are presented in their production, along with other unpublished or little-known material, designed to explore three areas of inquiry: Nervi and the large Italian industrial firms, that during the Second World War were based in Turin (Fiat certainly, but also Burgo, Italcementi, Pirelli, Lancia, L'Oréal ...); Nervi and Italian architects, with the dense network of relationships crucial to the design and construction of famous buildings such as the Pirelli skyscraper in Milan; and finally the steady and lasting relationship between Nervi and the culture of Milan and Turin Polytechnic Institutes, a relationship which was essential for the definition of a design and construction that would be exemplary in the world. It is the Nervi within Nervi, therefore, trying to learn more about human, intellectual, professional experience, impossible to restrict to the field of civil engineering alone, but which should be seen in the context of the history of architecture in the broadest sense of the word.
Because, paradoxically, the 'engineer Nervi "was a great architect: some clues suggest it with evidence. The first clue: when Paul VI, accompanied to visit the new auditorium just completed next to St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, he requested with loving kindness the presence of Pier Luigi Nervi, referring to him as architect. Certainly it would be embarrassing to correct the Pope, but the curious detail is that this is not the first nor the last time such a misunderstanding happens. The Italian engineer par excellence, with shrewd patience has managed to build his reputation on the quality of their particular discipline by helping to revolutionize the very concept of a civil engineering in the twentieth century, is not ashamed to be mistaken for an architect.
Second clue. Although he graduated in 1913 at the School for Engineers of the Royal University of Bologna, Pier Luigi Nervi was honorary architect for numerous Italian and foreign universities, beginning with Buenos Aires which gave him the title back in 1950. However, it was only at the Faculty of Architecture, University "La Sapienza" of Rome that the engineer taught between 1946 and 1961, helping to educate in construction knowledge the whole generation of future Italian professors from of by Carlo Aymonino to Paolo Portoghesi.
Third clue. Pier Luigi Nervi was one of the few engineers to gain a space in the major architectural magazines, and not only Italian ones, of the twentieth century. Thanks also to the insights of heterodox figures like Giulio Carlo Argan, Giuseppe Pagano, Gio Ponti and Piero Maria Bardi, in the early thirties "Architecture", "Dial", "Domus" or "Casabella" reserve attention to Nervian works which would never let up through the post-war years. When his fame crossed borders, following the exploits of two Olympic Games in 1960 and the Palazzo del Lavoro in 1961, American magazines are eager to pay homage to an author who has become an icon, like his work.
Fourth clue. In 1997, when the Milanese publishing house Città Studi Edizioni decides to send to press a new edition of Science or art of building? Features and Potential of Reinforced Concrete, the seminal work published by Nervi in 1945: the introduction is commissioned not to an engineer, but rather one of the Italian architects apparently most distant from the rhetoric of the design and construction, Aldo Rossi, who calls it "one of the few books that I always advise my students to read," believably in his course on Architectural Design. In spite of the contrary opinion of a persistent detractor such as Bruno Zevi, Nervi is an engineer who makes architecture, almost always, and especially in his best work: architects or even those who love the architecture have easily understood this. His amazing ability of experimental control of structural morphology and the equally amazing ability to conceive spaces of exceptional size with a very limited number of items using elementary geometry make Pier Luigi Nervi an almost impossible role model. Heirs to a glorious tradition, however, see inexorably changed (when not betrayed) by the new training and new professional practices, the Italian architect Pier Luigi Nervi to look like the last of the great builders of the past, from Brunelleschi to Antonelli. His works, moreover, seem to resolve a conflict that has torn the architecture of modern function and representation, structure and decoration seem to magically become one, without prevarication, with respect to an economy that is first of all one of moral choice. Even under these characters, doggedly cultivated over a lifetime, Pier Luigi Nervi has played an exceptional role in the architectural culture of the twentieth century: rediscovering this in the context of one of his best works is an opportunity not to miss.
PIER LUIGI NERVI – Architettura
come sﬁda. Torino, la committenza
industriale, le culture architettoniche
e politiche italiane
Torino Esposizioni Salone C
Via Petrarca 39/B
A free guided tour to discover :
Nervi’s works in Turin:
in collaboration with the Metropolitan Urban Center
cell. 348 7150322
29 aprile 17 luglio 2011
The salon-Torino Esposizioni
edge of the Parco del Valentino
(designed and built by Nervi)
contains twelve case studies of
*articolo pubblicato su Exibart.onpaper n. 72. Abbonati!