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January 21, 2021

Pier Luigi Nervi and the Artemio Franchi Stadium

The story of one of the most ingenious and innovative projects on the Italian architectural scene

This is the Florentine story of Pier Luigi Nervi, one of Italy's most innovative architects, the protagonist of a major travelling exhibition opening on 25 January at Manifattura Tabacchi.

Born in Sondrio in 1981, Pier Luigi Nervi devoted himself passionately to the study of reinforced concrete, opening up new horizons for architecture.

He began his career in 1913 working as a designer for SACC (Società Anonima per le Costruzioni Cementizie), which in the previous years had acquired the exclusive rights for central Italy to Hennebique's patent on reinforced concrete constructions.
Pier Luigi Nervi's major works in Italy include the complex of works for the 1960 Rome Olympics, the Palazzo delle esposizioni in Turin, the Pirelli skyscraper, the Orvieto garages and his most prestigious commission, that received from Pope Paul VI for the construction of the new papal audience hall in the Vatican (Aula Paolo VI).

Even before the affair of the municipal stadium, Pier Luigi Nervi's activity as a designer and builder enjoyed considerable success. The young engineer, who graduated from Bologna in 1913 and had been the owner of the Nervi & Nebbiosi construction company in Rome since 1920, had already built the roof structure of the Alhambra pelota hall in Tuscany (1919-1921) and the reinforced concrete structure of the Politeama Banchini in Prato (1925); In 1932 he founded the Impresa Nervi & Bartoli together with the engineer Giovanni Bartoli, and it is to this company that we owe the successive Florentine constructions of the Manifattura Tabacchi (1937-1940), the trampolines and the building of the Golf Club at Ugolino (1934) as well as active participation in various construction sites of the S. Maria Novella station (1932-1935). Maria Novella station (1932-1935), the construction of a dam at Granaiolo and the completion of the Gambrinus cinema. In Florence, his architecture took concrete form in the design and construction of the Berta Stadium (now the Artemio Franchi stadium).

One of the most ingenious and innovative figures on the Italian architectural scene, in the Florentine stadium Nervi translated his exceptional faith in the "magnificent plastic qualities of reinforced concrete" into the construction of structures that had never been built before, which combined bold constructional and formal solutions with exceptional cost-effectiveness, due essentially to the modularity of the project and the extreme rationality of the site organisation.

Covering an area of about 50,000 square metres between Viale M. Fanti, Viale E. Paoli and Viale Maratona, the "Artemio Franchi" municipal stadium characterises the Campo di Marte district as a large open space within the orderly grid of residential buildings constructed between the two World Wars.

It was designed by Pier Luigi Nervi in 1930 and built by the firms Nervi & Nebbiosi and Nervi & Bartoli in two successive lots, between December 1930 and December 1932.
As well as being one of the most innovative pieces of architecture on the national scene between the two wars and one of the most significant applications of reinforced concrete in public architecture, it represents the first and main episode in a series of sports facilities serving the neighbourhood and the city that were built in the immediate vicinity and constituted the Florentine sports "pole".

The reinforced concrete structure was built in two distinct phases: the first was dedicated to the construction of a central grandstand, characterised by a cantilevered roof of over 22 metres.

In the second phase, which began in 1932, work was no longer carried out by the Nervi & Nebbiosi company, which had been dissolved the year before, but by Nervi & Bartoli, and the ring of bleachers, the external spiral staircase and the 55-metre-high Marathon Tower were built.

The stadium is asymmetrical with respect to the playing field, in fact it has the now infamous (and politically talked about) 'D' shape, due to a design constraint: the need to respect the 220-metre length of the adjacent athletics track on the west side.

The total cost of the project, which envisaged a total capacity of 60,000 people, with 40,000 seats of which 5,000 in the covered stand, was 9,000,000 lire.

The Florence stadium demonstrates Pier Luigi Nervi's genius in designing and building large-scale works in a backward Italy held back by autarchy. It was soon appreciated also abroad, becoming, in the 1940s, the symbol of evolutionism in architecture, which is why the figure of Nervi was used by the fascist regime to propagandise progress.

On 9 January 1979, Pier Luigi Nervi died in Rome. To define him as 'only' an engineer is limiting: in him, the three figures of engineer, architect and entrepreneur have merged, in a word: 'Builder' with a capital C, the summa of the knowledge of the disciplines of building according to the rules of Art, where professionalism and humanity are one.


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