Publication: Aesthetics and Technology in Building. The Twenty-First-Century Edition
Cristiana Chiorino, Elisbetta Margiotta Nervi, and Thomas Leslie, eds. Pier Luigi Nervi, Aesthetics and Technology in Building (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2018).
DATE: 6/9/2018
Rome, Italy - The selection of Italian engineer and master builder Pier Luigi Nervi (1891-1979) to present the 1961 Charles Eliot Norton Lectures in Poetry at Harvard University was a breathtaking moment in the history of engineering and architecture. Often called a "poet in concrete" for his stunning, web-like roof structures and evocative, curving concrete structures, Nervi represented the growing optimism around technology and design in the postwar era.

In four lectures, the designer and builder of internationally acclaimed arenas for the 1960 Rome Olympics covered the history of building, showing how art and science had found common ground in construction dating back to Greek and Roman constructors.  He demonstrated how he, in turn, had been able with just a small crew of laborers to build some of the world´s largest concrete structures, using simple prefabricated elements to build up his richly patterned designs.  And he offered guidance for future architects and students, suggesting that they look to aviation and industrial design to find new principles for a new era of construction.

Nervi published his lectures in 1965, as an elegantly illustrated book titled Aesthetics and Technology in Building.  After more than fifty years, his words and images are now available in a new, critical edition of this ground-breaking book. Published by the University of Illinois Press, Aesthetics and Technology in Building: The Twenty-First Century Editionincludes Nervi´s original lectures and illustrations, along with new essays by contemporary scholars that put his words in context, showing how these talks summarized his career at a key point in his international development and how his work related to movements in engineering and architecture at the time.  Italian architect Roberto Einaudi, who served as Nervi´s translator for the lectures and the original book, has contributed the definitive history of how these lectures came to be, and how the original book captured this important moment.

Nervi´s work has seen a resurgence in scholarship in the last decade, with traveling exhibitions, symposia, and a new monograph, published by University of Illinois Press in 2017, titled Beauty´s Rigor: Patterns of Production in the Work of Pier Luigi Nervi.  That study´s author, Thomas Leslie, joined Elisabetta Margiotta Nervi of the Pier Luigi Nervi Research and Knowledge Management Project and noted Nervi scholar Cristiana Chiorino of the Politechnico di Torinoto edit the new edition of Aesthetics and Technology in Building.

"Interest in Nervi has never been higher," noted Leslie.  "But his work has not always been deeply understood.  His powerful forms and richly patterned domes were never willful—they emerged from very stringent attention to fabrication and construction processes."  Nervi´s dual role, as both design engineer and constructor, meant that his structures responded to rigorous structural and economic analysis.  

Co-editor Cristiana Chiorino adds, "in 2009, on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Nervi, we started a complex critical review of his work that resulted in an exhibition that was an extraordinary success from Australia to the United States to South America, demonstrating the relevance of its structural thinking. His approach can offer a significant contribution and new hints to the present debate on the role of formal inventiveness in the design of structures and, in a broader perspective, to the dialogue between architecture and engineering."

Aesthetics and Technology in Building captured the imagination of the architectural and engineering professions in the 1960s, but the elegant visions and cultural argument it made for engineering as a profoundly humanist activity is powerfully relevant today.  "Although modern and almost futuristic in his vision," notes Elisabetta Margiotta Nervi of the Pier Luigi Research and Knowledge Management Project, "Pier Luigi Nervi can be considered the last Italian master builder, who summarized and sublimated a great architectonic legacy. His attention to every aspect of the building process and ethical use of techniques and materials appeals to the contemporary sensitivity, anticipating the sustainable architecture of today."

With an afterword by renowned French scholar Joseph Abram and critical contributions by Roberto Einaudi, Gabriele Neri and Alberto Bologna. New photographs of Pier Luigi Nervi´s buildings by Hans Christian Schink.

To buy the book: Website