Pier Luigi Nervi – Biography of Pier Luigi Nervi

Pier Luigi Nervi was an Italian engineer and architect, internationally recognized for his technical ingenuity and dramatic sense of design, especially in relation to large-scale structures built in reinforced concrete. Some of his important works include a 309 foot span precast arch for the Turin Exposition (1949-1950) and the first skyscraper in Italy, the Pirelli Building (1955) in Milan, a collaborative design.

Pier Luigi Nervi He was born on June 21, 1891 in Sondrio, Italy. He graduated from the University of Bologna in 1913. During World War I he was a lieutenant in the Italian Army Corps of Engineers, and after the war he worked as an engineer in Bologna and Florence. Between 1926 and 1927 he designed his first major work, a movie theater in Naples, which was followed by the municipal stadium (Berta Stadium) of Florence, built between 1930 and 1932.

In 1932 Nervi and a cousin from Rome formed the contracting company Nervi y Bartoli, in which he would remain for the rest of his career. In 1935, the Italian air force held a competition to build a series of hangars throughout Italy. Nervi He envisioned them as concrete vaults, with large spans, that could be built inexpensively, and was commissioned for the project. Between 1935 and 1941 he built hangars in Obertello, Orvieto, and Torre del Lago. All of these structures were destroyed during the Second World War.

Each of these early structures showed the conceptual growth of design that resulted from the relentless search for Nervi of new solutions to structural problems. His creativity was not limited to building design; During World War II, he tried to build concrete boats for the Italian navy, but the project was never completed. After the war, he succeeded in building one of these vessels, a concrete yacht, with a 1.4-inch (3.6 cm) thick, 165-ton, motor-driven hull.

Later a 38-foot (11.6-meter) ketch was built, the Nennele, with a hull only half an inch thick. For both ships he used ferrocement, a material of his own invention, made up of dense concrete, strongly reinforced with evenly distributed steel mesh, which gave both lightness and resistance.

This material was vital in his design of the complex he built for the 1949-1950 Turin Exposition, a prefabricated structure in the shape of a wavy cylindrical arch, spanning 309 feet (93 m), based on modular glass and ferrocement components. Without the structural properties of this material, the entire conception would have been unfeasible.

The close relationship between the work of Nervi and his austere life was evident. His solutions to construction problems were always straightforward, transmitting to the ground by the shortest path, the stresses developed within the structures. His works were relatively unaffected by the changes in taste that accompanied the arrival of new forms in architecture. As a professor at the University of Rome in 1947, he taught that a designer can develop true solutions in three ways: by understanding the pure harmony of the laws of the physical world that regulate the balance of forces and the strength of materials; sincerely interpreting the essential factors of each problem; and rejecting the limitations of past solutions.

In 1950, when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Agency (UNESCO) decided to build its new headquarters in Paris, Nervi was one of the architects selected to design it. Marcel Breuer, one of his collaborators, described the participation of Nervi in the project like “a continuous search for a system: a geometric rhythm system“, and later it was said of him:”If there is an idea that arrogance and reckless irresponsibility are attributes of genius, a notion that being a genius means not being quite human, Nervi is here to refute this idea.“.

In 1955, in association with a group of architects, Nervi helped design Italy’s first skyscraper, the pirelli building. Although architects and engineers in the United States had long experience in the design and construction of skyscrapers, they invariably designed them around frames consisting of a series of smaller spans. For the Pirelli Building, Nervi he used experimental models – as he often did – which he tested in his Bergamo laboratory. His second skyscraper was built in Montreal and his third was the Australia Square (1962-1969; Sydney), a 50-story cylindrical tower. At that time it was the tallest concrete structure in the world. In 1957 and from 1958 to 1959, for the 1960 Rome Olympics, Nervi designed two sports palaces.

Its first construction in the United States was commissioned by the Port of New York Authority: the George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal, in Manhattan, built in 1961-62. Later he designed a precast, the Dartmouth College domed country house in New Hampshire (1961-1962) and, in collaboration with Pietro Belluschi, the san francisco cathedral, four dramatically deformed vertical surfaces that enclose the vertical space of the main nave. In 1961 Harvard University appointed Nervi in the Charles Eliot Norton Chair of Poetry and in 1963 he was awarded an honorary doctorate; later he received the Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects, in recognition of his work.

After years of intense practice in Italy and abroad, Nervi he reduced his activity as a builder in the late 1960s. Assisted by his two sons, Antonio, a structural engineer, and Mario, an architect, he began to limit his activities largely to designs. An increasing number of his projects began to be realized in association with foreign architects.

One of its constructions, probably one of the best known at the popular level, is the Paul VI classroom, the courtroom of the Vatican City built at the express wish of Paul VI in 1971. It is popularly known as Nervi Room.

The contribution of Nervi it has been compared to that of another builder whose work revolutionized architecture: Joseph Paxton, who built the Crystal Palace for the 1851 World’s Fair in London. In both cases, the structures were highly rational and innovative, the result of a dedicated and continuous research and development process, with an emphasis on modular construction, prefabrication, and extreme physical and visual lightness.

Pier Luigi Nervi He passed away on January 9, 1979 in Rome, Italy.