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IASS-SLTE Symposium 2014: Shells, Membranes and Spatial Structures: Footprints


IASS Symposium 2014

SESSION: Historical Spatial Structures

Moving weights: Nervi’s prefabricated ‘Wave Ashlar’ roofs and the Artisanal Cantiere

< Table of Contents for Historical Spatial Structures
  • Proceedings Name: IASS-SLTE Symposium 2014: Shells, Membranes and Spatial Structures: Footprints
  • ISSN: (Electronic Version) 2518-6582
  • Session: Historical Spatial Structures
  • Title: Moving weights: Nervi’s prefabricated ‘Wave Ashlar’ roofs and the Artisanal Cantiere
  • Author(s): Thomas LESLIE
  • Keywords: Pier Luigi Nervi, prefabrication, ferrocemento, naval construction, concrete construction
Abstract
Among Nervi’s best known works are long span vaults and domes that exploit the folded-plate principle to achieve unprecedented spans. While the structural performance of these undulating roofs was remarkable, their construction process—often alluded to but rarely documented—was equally radical. Nervi was not only a structural designer, he was also a builder; Nervi & Bartoli was renowned for their experimental process and their ability to build to budgets and schedules that others found impossible. But in many ways they were a typical Italian contracting firm in that they were family-owned and artisanal in scale. Their ability to construct on a scale that matched that of the world’s largest contractors in the 1950s and 1960s rested on principles of prefabrication and modularity. Nervi & Bartoli built some of the most sophisticated concrete structures of the postwar era, but they did so almost entirely by hand, by breaking down giant spans into elements that could be fabricated and moved by just a few workers, and that could be lifted into place by small jobsite equipment. This paper examines the construction processes behind these prefabricated vaults, using component, construction, and scaffolding drawings in the Nervi Archives at MAXXI in Rome and in the Centro Studi e Archivio della Comunicazione collection at the Università degli Studi di Parma to show how Nervi’s structural daring was matched by ingenious jobsite and fabrication techniques. It will focus on the processes involved in the Salone B, but will show how these evolved for later projects. In conclusion, the paper focuses on the shortlived, ambitious project for Reynolds, using previously unpublished correspondence and digital reconstructions to explore the limits of the folded plate structural type and of the System Nervi.

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