Palazo Badoer

PIER LUIGI NERVI. Architettura come sfida

Torino, la committenza industriale, le culture architettoniche e politecniche italiane





29 aprile – 17 luglio 2011

Torino Esposizioni Salone C

Via Petrarca 39/B – Torino





As part of the events of Esperienza Italia 150°, the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of national unity, the exhibition Pier Luigi Nervi, Architettura come sfida (Pier Luigi Nervi, Architecture as Challenge) will open to the public on Friday, 29 April 2011, at Torino Esposizioni.  This itinerant exhibition is made possible by the Pier Luigi Nervi Research and Knowledge Management Project, headquartered in Brussels, the Centre International pour la Ville, l’Architecture et le Paysage (CIVA), also in Brussels, the MAXXI/Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI secolo in Rome, and the Centro Studi e Archivi della Comunicazione (CSAC) of the University of Parma.

Under the direction of an international scientific committee presided by architectural historian Carlo Olmo, the project is the fruit of a collaboration between the Politecnico di Torino, the Tor Vergata University of Rome and the Sapienza University of Rome. The exhibition has been mounted thanks also to the research project Pier Luigi Nervi Arte e Scienza del Costruire (Pier Luigi Nervi. The Art and Science of Building), with contributions from the Compagnia di San Paolo and the coordination of the Urban Center Metropolitano di Torino.

The set of exhibitions, scheduled to be mounted in Italy and abroad, is divided into various phases and is characterised by a central nucleus of 12 works selected from among Nervi’s most famous projects in Italy and abroad, plus thematic sections created ‘to measure’ for each individual venue, introducing new material, studies and testimonies of particular significance for each site.

The first exhibition, inaugurated in Brussels in June 2010, has already travelled to Venice (September-November 2010) and Rome (at the Maxxi Museum of the Arts of 21st Century, December 2010-March 2011). The appointment in Rome was enriched by a concentration on Nervi’s projects for the 1960 Olympic Games. After its appearance in Torino, the exhibition will begin an international tour that will take it to Berlin, China and the United States.

Nervi was one of the twentieth century’s greatest creators of architectural structures, author of some of the most beautiful works of contemporary architecture, the result of an extraordinary union of art and science in building. Nikolaus Pevsner defined him as ‘the most brilliant artist in reinforced concrete of our time’.

He has been characterised as having the daring of an engineer, the imagination of an architect, and the practicality of a businessman. Over his long career, his work encompassed at least six fundamental activities: designing, drawing, calculating, modelling, writing, teaching.


While all these activities were intertwined in ways that were sometimes profound, each one was autonomous, originating a very special personal history far from that typical of civil engineers operating in the domain of architecture.

The exhibit of the designs that led to the realisation of works that were exceptional both quantitatively and qualitatively, found in all five continents and built at the behest of the most various of commissioners (from UNESCO to Pope Paul VI), makes it possible to retrace a history that would have been difficult to tell in any other way, in which revolutionary construction techniques are frequently connected to Italian and international political history.

It is precisely the project for a travelling exhibition, reaching some of the locations where Nervi created some of his most significant works,  that best permits an exploration of the complexity of the world of culture and relationships in which Nervi moved, in addition to providing a means for analysing the formal inventions of his works.

The exhibition’s stop in Torino will be framed by the city’s splendid venue “Torino Esposizioni”, making an itinerary of ‘Nervi inside Nervi’ possible for the first time. Torino Esposizioni, built shortly after WWII to host the ‘Saloni dell’Automobile’ (an automotive show that was a veritable showcase for Torinese industry) marks the beginning of an intense, lasting relationship between Nervi and the city of Torino, one that would reach its acme with the award to Nervi of the commission for the ‘Palazzo del Lavoro’, main landmark of the huge centennial celebrations of Italia ’61, the largest project for urban renewal in a city then in the middle of an economic boom.

The exhibition’s nucleus revolves around the illustration, through original drawings, scale models and photographs, of a selection of 12 of Nervi’s most celebrated works in Italy and abroad – from the Hangars in Orbetello and Orvieto of the 1930s, until the Cathedral of St. Mary in San Francisco, the Papal Audience Hall in Rome, and the Embassy in Brasilia at the end of the 1960s, passing throught the projects for the Olympic Games in Rome at the end of the 1950s, and those of Torino Exposizioni and the Palazzo in Lavoro.

The exhibition is highlighted by a series of photographs that offers readings of the ten still extant iconic works out of this group, taken by the great Italian master of architectural photography, Mario Carrieri.

The scale models of the twelve works on display, created using today’s rapid prototyping technology, were conceived by the NerViLab of the Department of Structural and Geotechnical Engineering of the Sapienza University of Rome and the Department of Structural Engineering of the Politecnico di Torino, with the aim of contributing to an understanding of the profundity of Nervi’s thinking, while showing its best possible outcome: the spatial expressiveness of the structural compositions by means of the language of geometry.

In the section of the exhibition expressly created for the appointment in Torino, the first aspect being examined regards Nervi’s relationship with the important Italian industrial entities that commissioned projects, which in those early years following the war, were centered in Torino, especially those of Fiat, but also including Burgo, Italcementi, Pirelli, Lancia and L’Oréal. In addition to in-depth looks at the stunning “cathedrals” of Torino Exposizioni and the Palazzo del Lavoro, still admired today the world over, other less well known projects will also be presented, such as Fiat plants from Mirafiori to Venaria, and the tram maintenance hangar in Via Manin), which also contributed to Torino’s modern look, as well as other unbuilt projects for large structures in the city, such as the Porta Nuova train station.

A second aspect that will be explored concerns Nervi’s relationship with Italian architects during the design phase of many of the buildings on display: Gio Ponti for the Pirelli skyscraper in Milan and the Lerici Italian Institute for Culture in Stockholm, with whom Nervi had a long-lasting relationship that was played out in the page of Domus magazine; Luigi Moretti for the Montréal Stock Exchange Tower; Marcello Piacentini and Annibale Vitellozzi for the Rome sports complex; Ettore Sottsass for Torino Esposizioni; and Ernesto Nathan Rogers and Pietro Maria Bardi, who contributed to Nervi’s critical success in magazines such as Quadrante and Casabella.

In a third aspect, particular attention will be paid to Nervi’s relationship to the world of engineering and polytechnic culture in Milan and Torino. Thanks to an intense and long-lasting relationship with eminent figures within the two polytechnic institutes, such as Arturo Danusso in Milan and Guido Oberti in Torino, Nervi discovered the possibilities offered by experimental research (in particular on reduced scale models) for setting up and checking his own extraordinary formal and constructive inventions. On the other hand, his contacts with Gustavo Colonnetti - eminent scientist and one of the major protagonists of technological innovation in strict relation with the evolution of architectural culture, during post war reconstruction years -  shed light on a cross-section of the “golden age” of Italian architecture and engineering in the twentieth century.

The display is enriched with testimonials in videos, with interviews and contemporary film footage rediscovered in the archives of Raiteche and the Istituto Luce.

The exhibition is accompanied by two catalogues, published by Silvana Editoriale, which complement each other. The first is more generally about the themes that delineate Nervi’s career and is mainly referred to his major works, while the other is more specific to the Torino exhibition.

The exhibition itinerary also continues beyond the Torino Esposizioni venue. In order to make it possible to experience Nervi’s works sprinkled around the city, Torino’s Urban Center Metropolitano is offering a series of Nervi tours aboard a bus that circulated at the time of Italia '61 and has been purposely restored for this occasion.

In concomitance with the exhibition, on 2 May 2011 Torino’s Academy of Sciences will host an international seminar on the work of Pier Luigi Nervi. Special attention will be given, on the one hand, to the relationship between science and art in construction, and on the other, to problems linked to the culturally correct conservation and adaptive reuse of Torino’s exceptional heritage of twentieth-century structural architecture, especially, but not only, that of Nervi.

Two important occasions to bring to the centre of the city’s cultural debates, and to compare and contrast to other situations as well, the destiny of an extraordinary heritage of history-making works of contemporary architecture that are known and admired throughout the world, but whose prospects for reuse were and still are today very problematic.

The international tour of the exhibition has been made possible thanks to the contribution of Permasteelisa group, Italcementi and Ance. The Torino exhibition is supported by Regione Piemonte, Città di Torino, Comitato Italia 150, Camera di Commercio di Torino, Cassa di Risparmio di Torino, Politecnico di Torino, Collegio costruttori edili di Torino, Maire Tecnimont, Recchi Ingegneria e Partecipazioni S.p.A., Burgo Group and Gruppo torinese trasporti.




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