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Pier Luigi Nervi, Palazzetto © Pier Luigi Nervi

THE ART AND SCIENCE OF BUILDING, PIER LUIGI NERVI

A true master of artificial and industrialized stone, “reinforced cement”, Pier Luigi Nervi (1891-1979) is certainly among the most influential structural engineers of the twentieth century. Nervi combined his humanistic approach to engineering with an exploratory method rooted in the working of material to determine a line of research and application of reinforced concrete and ferrocement in particular that would enable him to create a body of remarkable works both in terms of construction techniques and architectural forms. During his career, Nervi has participated in the realization of iconic buildings of twentieth century architecture such as the Palazzetto dello sport in Rome (1958), the Palazzo dello travail in Turin (1960) and the Pirelli Tower in Milan (1960). Another major achievement, directly related to Montréal, is the Place Victoria tower (1964) in the heart of the city, which he designed in collaboration with the architect Luigi Moretti.

This project around the work of Pier Luigi Nervi features several components: presentation of a travelling exhibition accompanied by a local component, a public lecture, a study day, and a visit accompanied by a lecture for the general public. The exhibition, entitled Pier Luigi Nervi. “The art and science of building” is a travelling version, lighter and adapted from the exhibition” Pier Luigi Nervi: Architecture as Challenge” presented for the first time in Brussels in 2010. This exhibition will be presented at the Centre de design de l’UQAM from September 20 to November 20, 2020. The local component of the exhibition will be prepared by professors from the UQAM School of Design and the School of Architecture of the Université de Montréal. This distinct and original content will provide an insight into Nervi’s contribution to the development of three interrelated construction practices: prefabrication, laboratory experimentation, and industrialization. Entitled “Nervi. Master Designer”, this part of the exhibition will be based on the documentation, analysis and model representation of a group of projects carried out by Nervi that testify to his atypical approach to design in the production of the built environment.

The travelling exhibition and its local component will serve as an anchor for the organization of reflection and broadcasting activities for various audiences: a public lecture on Nervi’s conceptual and constructive originality, a study day on the relationship between design and experimentation in Nervi and its legacy in the 21st century, a guided tour of Place Victoria in Montreal, and a lecture for the general public on an experience of working with Nervi.

Several sponsoring organizations have already confirmed their interest in being associated with this project: the Montreal Italian Cultural Institute, the Ordre des architectes du Québec, the Petra group, the Docomomo Québec organization, the Pomerleau Construction Industrial Chair associated with École Polytechnique Montréal, and the Canadian Precast and Prestressed Concrete Institute. The diversity of these partners is a clear indication of the unifying nature of this exhibition, reflection and dissemination project. Even several decades after the end of his career, Nervi remains an icon of modernity in architecture and continues to generate great interdisciplinary interest. The present project around Nervi’s work will allow us to frame its importance, to rediscover the lessons of his practice as a designer/builder, to broadcast these lessons to a large and transdisciplinary audience and to engage in fruitful discussions between all those involved in the project.

Carlo Carbone, Louise Pelletier, Bechara Helal and Réjean Legault
Exhibition and colloquium at Centre de design de l’UQAM funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council (Connection Program), the Italian Cultural Institute and the Ordre des Architectes du Québec 2020-2021