Exhibition “Pier Luigi Nervi Architecture as Challenge”

ph copyright Mario Carrieri, Milan


The Exhibition

The international touring exhibition, Pier Luigi Nervi – Architecture as Challenge, was born of a collaboration between the Pier Luigi Nervi Research and Knowledge Management Project and the CIVA (Centre International pour la Ville, l’Architecture et le Paysage) – both based in Brussels, the MAXXI/Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo and the CSAC (Centro Studi e Archivi della Comunicazione dell’Università di Parma). Under the direction of an international committee of specialists chaired by Carlo Olmo, architectural historian and lecturer at the Politecnico di Torino, research for the exhibition is the fruit of a collaboration between that institution and Rome’s Tor Vergata and Sapienza Universities. 
The exhibit is organized into a sequence of stages, each introducing, step by step, new materials,studies and testimonials.

Order the catalogue in English, French or Italian
PIER LUIGI NERVI. Architecture as Challenge (Carlo Olmo, Cristiana Chiorino eds.), Silvana Editoriale, 2010, 240 pp.

Photo Davide Chemise

The series of exhibitions, scheduled to be presented 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 worldwide,  plus thematic sections created  “to measure” for each individual venue, introducing new materials, studies and testimonials of particular relevance for each site.Nervi was one of the twentieth century’s greatest creators of architectural structures, creator 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:  design, drawing, computation, modelling, writing and teaching.

While each of these activities was autonomous, all were intertwined in ways that were sometimes profound, making it possible to reconstruct the developments in a career that, from its very beginning, extended far beyond the common canons of civil engineering as usually applied to architecture.The exhibit presents the original designs that were the basis for works that were exceptional, both in terms of scope and quality.  They can be found on all five continents and were commissioned by a most diverse group of clients, from UNESCO to Pope Paul VI. Their study 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.

This travelling exhibition is the perfect vehicle to explore the complex world of culture and relationships in which Nervi moved, in addition to providing keys to understanding the formal inventiveness of his works.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.  First, the air hangars in Orbetello and Orvieto of the 1930s. Next, St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco. Then it’s onto the Papal Audience Hall in Rome, followed by the end-60’s embassy in Brasilia. It also includes a look at the projects for the Olympic Games in Rome at the end of the 1950s, and those of Torino Esposizioni and the Palazzo di Lavoro.Among exhibition highlights are a series of photographs of ten of Nervi’s iconographic works – all still standing today  – 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 technologies, were produced by the NerViLab of the Department of Structural and Geotechnical Engineering at the Sapienza University of Rome and the Department of Structural Engineering
of the  Politecnico di Torino, contributing to an understanding of the depth of Nervi’s thinking, while showcasing its best possible outcome: the spatial expressiveness of structural compositions which speak the language of geometry.

Photo Jacopo Pergameno courtesy Fondazione MAXXI

Communication has been one of the cornerstones of the major cultural project behind this exhibition, aimed at deeper awareness and study of Pier Luigi Nervi’s work ever since its conception.

Exhibitions are the most important method through which the work of scholars can be presented and the master builder’s projects and achievements fully appreciated by the public on a worldwide scale. In accordance with an approach as uncommon as it is commendable and indeed generally desirable, the exhibition design was conceived at the same time as the research project and devised as a system capable of displaying the scholarly findings, original materials, models and images in museums inside and outside Europe without forgetting that the items for display are to expand and alter at the subsequent stages of the tour.

The design was thus an integral part of the scholarly structure and constitutes its visible expression.

Given the existence and availability of the MAXXI and CSAC archives, the starting point was the decision to take advantage of this opportunity to exhibit the original drawings produced over the years for the different projects. The availability of this extraordinary material – graphic works of great fascination and unquestionable beauty in their own right in addition to their historical and critical importance – made it possible to devise the heart of the exhibition design.

The setting is a drawing office that, while unquestionably imaginary, seeks to conjure up the atmosphere and flavor of the space in which Pier Luigi Nervi loved to work with his sons and associates, discreet, simple and absolutely exceptional in its normality. Here the drawings are exhibited on tilted planes, authentic drawing boards frozen as in a snapshot, as though the drawings had just been completed and were now presented to the attentive spectator for examination.

Scientific Partners

Politecnico di Torino, Dipartimento di Progettazione Architettonica e di Disegno IndustrialePolitecnico di Torino, Dipartimento di Ingegneria Strutturale e Geotecnica
Università degli Studi di Roma La Sapienza, Dipartimento di Ingegneria Strutturale e Geotecnica
Università degli Studi di Roma Tor Vergata, Dipartimento di Ingegneria Civile
Faculté d’Architecture La Cambre-Horta, Bruxelles

Scientific Committee

Carlo Olmo, Politecnico di Torino

Joseph Abram, École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Nancy
Barry Bergdoll, Columbia University, Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gloria Bianchino, Università degli Studi di Parma, Centro Studi e Archivio della Comunicazione – CSAC
Mario Alberto Chiorino, Politecnico di Torino
Alessandro Colombo, Milano
Margherita Guccione, MAXXI Architettura, Rome
Tullia Iori, Università degli Studi di Roma Tor Vergata
Sergio Pace, Politecnico di Torino
Sergio Poretti, Università degli Studi di Roma Tor Vergata
Christophe Pourtois, Centre International pour la Ville, l’Architecture et le Paysage – CIVA, Bruxelles
Marcelle Rabinowicz, Centre International pour la Ville, l’Architecture et le Paysage – CIVA, Bruxelles
Francesco Romeo, Università degli Studi di Roma La Sapienza
Francine Vanlaethem, Université du Québec à Montréal – UQAM, Montréal


Scientific Secretariat

Cristiana Chiorino
Elisabetta Margiotta Nervi

with the contribution of
Alberto Bologna
Michela Comba
Luisa De Marinis
Claudio Greco
Maria Manuela Leoni
Roberta Martinis
Lucia Miodini
Gabriele Neri
Irene Nervi
Edoardo Piccoli
Mario Sassone
Esmeralda Valente

Scientific Research

Cristiana Chiorino (Palazzo del Lavoro, Turin, Burgo Paper Mill in cooperation with Alberto Bologna)
Michela Comba (Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Turin)
Claudio Greco (Cinema-Teatro Augusteo, Naples)
Tullia Iori (Palazzetto dello Sport, Rome; Italian Embassy, Brasilia)
Roberta Martinis (Berta Stadium, Florence)
Sergio Pace (Saint Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco; Papal Audience Hall, Vatican City)
Edoardo Piccoli (Airplane Hangar, Orvieto and Orbetello)
Christophe Pourtois (UNESCO Headquarters, Paris)
Mario Sassone (Airplane Hangar, Orvieto and Orbetello; Ponte del Risorgimento, Verona)
Francine Vanlaethem (Place Victoria, Montreal)

General Coordination of the Project
Elisabetta Margiotta Nervi

Executive Committee

Elisabetta Margiotta Nervi
Marco Nervi
Christophe Pourtois
Marcelle Rabinowicz


Archivio Maire Tecnimont, Milan
Archivio Pier Luigi Nervi, Rome
Archivio Ufficio Tecnico Burgo, Mantua
Centro Studi e Archivio della Comunicazione – CSAC, Università degli Studi di Parma
Comune di Verona, Archivio Generale
Comitato Olimpico Nazionale Italiano – CONI, Rome
Museo Nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo – MAXXI, Rome
Pier Luigi Nervi, Rome
Pier Luigi Nervi Research and Knowledge Management Project asbl, Brussels

Exhibition Set-up and Graphic Design

Terra – Paola Garbuglio Alessandro Colombo

Exhibition Texts

Cristiana Chiorino (Comunicarch)


Paul David Blackmore

Photographic Section “The Structure of Beauty”

Photographs by Mario Carrieri, Milano



NerViLab – Nervi Virtual Lab, Università degli Studi di Roma La Sapienza

Project Director
Francesco Romeo (Dipartimento di Ingegneria Strutturale e Geotecnica)

Leonardo Baglioni
Federico Fallavollita
Marta Salvatore (Dipartimento di Rilievo, Analisi e Disegno dell’Ambiente e dell’Architettura)

Sapienza Università di Roma
Elena Boria (UNESCO Headquarters, Paris)
Marco Calcagnoli (Aeroplane Hangar, Orbetello; Cinema-Teatro Augusteo, Naples)
Sandra Cazzato (Papal Audience Hall, Vatican City)
Cristian Di Bella (Palazzetto dello Sport, Rome)
Saverio Fimmanò (Place Victoria, Montreal)
Barbara Picone (Saint Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco)
Isabella Proietti Muzi (Italian Embassy, Brasilia)
Ludovica Troiani (Berta Stadium, Florence)

Politecnico di Torino
Mario Sassone (Turin Exhibition Centre and Palazzo del Lavoro; Ponte del Risorgimento, Verona) in collaboration with the Archives of CONI, Rome; CSAC, Parma; MAXXI, Rome


Materialise NV, Leuven
Jeroen Moons (Project Director)
Sven Hermans

Additional Parts and Details

Sur-Le Champ, Brussels
Pierre Jacob (Design & Modelling)
& Attak, Bruxelles – Aurore Lieben

Audio-Visual Staging

Linda Ibbari with Jérémie Ducrocq

Photographic Documentation

Centro archivi MAXXI Architettura, Roma
Centro Studi e Archivio della Comunicazione – CSAC, Università degli Studi di Parma
Archivio Ufficio tecnico Burgo, Mantua
Hagen Stier, Hamburg

Catalogue edited by

Carlo Olmo and Cristiana Chiorino

with the contribution of
Christophe Pourtois, Marcelle Rabinowicz and Elisabetta Margiotta Nervi


Joseph Abram
Leonardo Baglioni
Barry Bergdoll
Gloria Bianchino
Cristiana Chiorino
Mario Alberto Chiorino
Alessandro Colombo
Michela Comba
Luisa De Marinis
Federico Fallavollita
Paola Garbuglio
Claudio Greco
Tullia Iori
Roberta Martinis
Irene Nervi
Carlo Olmo
Sergio Pace
Edoardo Piccoli
Sergio Poretti
Christophe Pourtois
Francesco Romeo
Marta Salvatore
Mario Sassone
Esmeralda Valente


We wish to thank all the institutions, archives and photographers quoted in the captions, as well as

Mario Carrieri, Milano
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos
Franco Cisterna, Rome
F.lli D’Amico, Rome
Oscar Savio, Rome
Agenzia fotografica Suriano, Rome
Vasari, Rome