A large part of Nervi’s success was due to the fact that he wasn’t only an engineer/designer, he was also a builder, with his partner Bertoli. More than one of their designs–Turin Esposizione in particular–came about initially as construction contracts and involved their redesigning to suit some of their advanced techniques. Those techniques were often the results of experiments conducted in their testing yard in southern Rome.
Which is pictured above. The MAXXI Archives listed a warehouse on Via Magliana, south of Trastevere and near the Villa Bonelli train station (on the way to Fiumicino Airport). It seemed relatively easy to reach, and since I was on a winning streak yesterday with the old Gatti factory, I added 100 minutes to my ATAC card and headed south. It took some walking around, but from the parallel (and higher) Via Magliana Nuova I could see the corrugated roof line, and I knew that this was not only the warehouse, but it was the 1945 ferrocemento warehouse that formed the centerpiece for their experiments in concrete.
It’s now a parking lot and car wash, which makes it semi-accessible. The warehouse itself is in fairly rough shape. There are a number of areas where the thin concrete has spalled off, probably due to corrosion of the metal mesh underneath. That’s not good, but it does reveal the mechanics of Nervi’s system:
You can see the metal mesh there, and in the ceiling you can also see that it was combined with more traditional rebar in spanning (bending) elements:
This warehouse is itself an interesting experiment. The corrugations give the walls much greater effective depth than their 1-1/2″ thickness, and the same folds in the roof make the thin shell behave like set of deep beams. You can see, though, that the construction was difficult, especially around the windows. And the result is frankly pretty unlovely, even if it’s structurally clever. While Nervi didn’t use this particular system in warehouse construction, it’s a clear precursor to the corrugated roofs at Turin and the Palazzo dello Sport.
There are other structures on the site that appear to be the same vintage, and I’d wager that some of the contain other Nervi experiments. That will have to wait for another trip, though, since the parking lot attendant was pretty skeptical of my motives. I think there’s an argument, and maybe a future studio project, to make the old yard into some sort of museum, though, because if there’s one site that encapsulates the Nervi ethic, I think it would have to be the place where he and his engineers actually got their hands dirty and tried these things out. There must have been some spectacular failures here, and you can imagine the prosecco flowing freely when an experiment proved itself.