The low-hanging fruit on the Nervi reconnaissance are the Olympic sites from 1960. The small arena (the Palazetto Della Sport), the Corsa Francia overpass, and the Stadio Flaminio are all within a stone’s throw of one another along the Via Flaminia, north of the city center.
All of them are more or less accessible–you can drive on the Corso, of course, but as an American tourist you’re more likely to walk under it to get to Renzo Piano’s concert halls. The Palazetto is home to Rome’s professional basketball team (yep, you read that correctly) but it’s also more or less wide open during the daytime, and I wasn’t the only architectural sightseer there yesterday.
Stadio Flaminio is less accessible, and a somewhat sadder tale. Designed as a setting for the field sports in 1960, it was intentionally intimate, with only 32,000 seats spread out along the entire perimeter. Nervi designed a main grandstand with a cantilevered roof that echoed his first major work, the football grounds in Florence, but with a more refined sense of materials and structural form–at the Flaminio, the roof’s long span is formed of folded precast plates, and supported by steel pipes instead of concrete arms. The remainder of the stadium is brilliantly engineered with a repeating structural frame whose shape changes at every interval to accommodate the constantly shifting section. This let Nervi tune the end zones and secondary grandstand to provide more seats in better viewing areas, and the result is a subtly curving, sensuous form that.
Unfortunately, it’s intimate scale has done it no favors recently. For a decade it served as the home for Italy’s national Rugby team, but plans to hold international championships there more recently fell apart as funding for renovation and expansion never materialized. Italy’s team now plays in the larger–though far less graceful–Stadio Olimpico across the Tiber, and even Rome’s local team has abandoned Nervi’s structure.
And the structure has suffered from this desertion. There’s a lot of visible spalling, and plants have begun to take root in the concrete–early signs of gravely compromised material. There was a grounds crew working on the immaculately trimmed field, but there is a lot of work that needs to be done to rescue this one. Part of the goal with this research is to call attention to the disintegrating works of Nervi that are perhaps a bit more obscure–water towers, warehouses and the like that belie their humble functions with poetic expressions of static and constructive logic. Stadio Flaminio, however, is arguably one of his most visible works, and it’s more than slightly shocking to see it in obvious distress.