nervi’s lecture notes

I’ve been spending the last couple of days transcribing lecture notes taken by Robert Einaudi during Nervi’s lectures in the architecture program at Tor Sapienza in the late 1950s.  They’re included in a collection of papers called La Lezione di Pier Luigi Nervi, edited by Annalisa Trentin and Tomaso Trombetti (Milan-Turin: Pearson Italia, 2010), and they’re fantastic.

Einaudi is an interesting character in all of this–he attended Tor Sapienza after working for (of all people) Louis Kahn, and then went on to study at MIT.  When Nervi came to Harvard to give the Norton Lectures, Einaudi was roped into translating, and ultimately he went on to translate all of Nervi’s Harvard lectures for Aesthetics and Technology in Building.

He was shocked to find the casual attitude of his fellow students toward Nervi–attendance was more or less free-form, the classes started at odd times in the semester, and there was clearly a well-developed rivalry between student body and the then  70-year old professor.  Nervi comes across as passionate, deeply engaged, often baffled by current architectural trends, and occasionally grumpy (“Come on time, or don’t come at all,” he tells one latecomer.  I wish I could get away with that…).  And while he could be pointed in his published criticism of structures he found dubious, he was downright acidic in  the views he expressed in class.  For instance?

For instance.  Here he is on Saarinen’s TWA Terminal:

“Saarinen’s Airport is:

–a structure that makes no sense,

–a waste of money

–there is no need to create such a form.

One can resolve the same problem in other ways.  In a little while such buildings will leave us with the same feeling as the Milan Railroad Station leaves us today.  It is an unnecessary extravagance that is nothing more than a whim.  Morally it is wrong!”

Ouch!  Just to make the point, there’s the Milan railway station to the left.  Not a compliment.

And even when he liked a structure–Corbusier’s chapel at Ronchamp, for instance, he was wary of its effect on impressionable minds.  “The chapel at Ronchamp is a thing of beauty,” he told his class.  “But it will breed horrible children.  Le Corbusier can do it well, but others cannot.”

And then, likely as not, he’d segue into a deep technical discussion about aggregate placement.

Or aesthetic philosophy.  Like Einaudi, I can’t imagine anyone missing these…

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