digital palazetto


It’s not all Borromini, fascist youth clubs, and the Colosseum (about which more soon).

One of the most interesting parts of the Chicago Skyscrapers project was realizing that we could easily reconstruct key buildings from extant construction drawings (or, occasionally, far less).  I had a great team of grad students who dove in and put together great digital models that told us a lot about how the buildings were put together, and they made for great illustrations in the book.

Before heading over here, I had an ace grad student start to put together some models of the Palazetto dello Sport, based on what we were able to find published, and one of the things I’ve been doing in my down time is building on her work to get some full models of that and other key Nervi structures built.  It’s a good process not only to have the information in digital form, but also to force myself to completely understand the geometry involved.  Which, as you can see, can get pretty complex.  (And yes, it’s just Sketchup, but even this has been a pretty big jump for me…it will get the Cinema 3D treatment, plus a few tweaks, by the digital experts back home).

Except not really.  What’s there looks complicated, but it’s actually pretty simple to build.  You have to get the spherical geometry right, but tiling that into the diamond-shaped tavolazza only takes a few minutes.  There are two ‘families’ of rings–one that starts at the base with a triangle, and one adjacent to it that starts with a diamond.  Once you have those, you can go through a fairly simple set of operations for each ring on the dome.  The diamonds get smaller, but they stay the same shape–at least until you get to the really fiddly bit up at the top.  Then, of course, you start to realize that eventually the tavolazza will get infinitely small by the time they reach the top, and you (like Nervi) say the hell with it and finish off with one last, long pan that avoids things getting too small.  And once you have both families of pans sized, you just rotate the whole thing around the dome surface, and Robert’s your mother’s brother, as the Brits say.

palazetto 11 oct 2013The windows and fans at the base are a bit trickier, but of course once you’ve done them once you’re done.  And this relates precisely to the jobsite process that built this–once they had solved one ray of pan sizes, one fork, one eyebrow, and one fan, they had molds that could cast the entire structure.  I’m working up a bit on how this process was fundamentally algorithmic, in that the foremen could give a group of unskilled laborers one set of precise instructions, turn them loose in the casting yard, and end up with a fairly sophisticated set of nesting pans.  That played into the economics of construction in postwar Italy, and its rigor contributed to the (staggering) aesthetic impact of the thing–every bit of it is part of a rich set of patterns that has to do with the disciplined patterning of the process.

Fun stuff.

Update:  by request, here’s one ‘slice’ of the pie…palazetto 11 oct 2013 slice

6 thoughts on “digital palazetto

  1. Very cool. Simplicity is always such an elusive key. Would you perhaps illustrate/highlight this single bay separate from the rest of the circular array? I am curious if that align like a stipe or stagger along the edge. The elegance is very refined yet its appearance complex and inspiring. Glad to finally see you taking up digital techniques to explore architecture.


  2. Hello,

    I contact you to know if it would be possible to give me your 3D model of palazetto dello sport de Roma. I am in 5th year of arquitecture and in the context of my option, I have to have a 3D model of the project to be ble to make renders and your model interests me a lot.

    Thank you,

    Best regards,


    • You’re welcome to any of the .jpegs, but I hope you’ll understand that the 3d stuff isn’t something I want to give out…sorry, hope the image will be enough, and good luck!


  3. Hi,
    Your model is good looking and seems pretty accurate. I wonder could you give me some information about the rib cross-section that you used in model? I am a civil master student and working on the FEM analysis of the palazetto dello sport, but I could not find any information about the rib cross-section. If you could send me some data it would help me finish my project.

    Best regards,


    • Beauty’s Rigor has an extensive discussion of the Palazzetto’s rib geometry, with a reproduction of details showing the cross-section, but there are also good papers online by Tullia Iori and others that include this. You might also check MAXXI’s website (, as they have many of the shop drawings of the molds for the ribs. Good luck!


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