Nervi’s earliest work in Turin came with the construction of an exposition hall in the city’s riverfront park in the aftermath of WWII. Because of its industrial importance, Turin had been bombed heavily, and part of the city’s reconstruction involved a precinct that had been devoted throughout the 19th century to public parks and expos. Fiat needed room to show off its new cars each year, and commissioned its in-house architect to design a large hall as part of a complex that included a theater and restaurant.
Nervi and Bartoldi received the commission to build the main hall, and the result of their discussions with the city and Fiat was a comprehensive re-design that used lightweight precast elements of ferrocemento to span the main hall, and two lines of poured in place fans and piers to support these. Like many of their projects, their system–an extension of their work on the Orvieto airplane hangars during the war–proved both economical and quick to build. It’s repetition, it’s ability to include skylights (closed during my visit, natch), and it’s sculptural form all combined to add a powerful visual grain to the vast space below, too.
At the end of the hall, the architectural plans called for a rather awkward apse, semi-circular in plan, and here Nervi proposed a change in detail as well. Building on an idea first explored in a bus garage they constructed in 1945, the revised ceiling plan for this apse took the diagonal grid of a lamella arch system, which they had used at Orvieto, and literally twisted it around the circular form. The resulting diagonals traced intricate spirals across the dome that mimicked precisely the logarithmic shapes of pine cones, sunflowers, and the Nautilus shell. By using similarly scaled pans, Nervi and Bartoldi were able to construct this complex shape with relatively simple means, and this experiment provided the basis for future work at Chianciano and the 1960 Olympic sites.
If you look closely, you can see that they didn’t quite get the geometry right–the third row up from the bottom has much longer pans than the rest of the roof. Eventually they’d get it right, though…
The Salone B and it’s later cousin, Salone C, are both still in use and well-maintained by the city. There was a rather fantastic show up over the weekend, in fact: