Abbazia di Paradigna

20131108-091028.jpg. Doesn’t really look like the kind of place to hold the archives of a great 20th century engineer, does it? But this is the home of CSAC Parma, which houses the university’s collections. Including several thousand drawings by Nervi and his office. It’s a beautiful setting, just this side of impossible to reach (it involves asking a bus driver to let you off at a gas station on the side of a busy highway), and booked weeks in advance, I got a day wedged in yesterday (coming back in December), and while I barely made a dent in what I want to eventually see, a few hours paging through rebar drawings, dome layouts, and graphic statics calculations was at least the equivalent of months of reading. When the humanities folks talk about the problems of stuff vs. texts, I realize that construction historians are lucky, because drawings like these split the difference nicely.

And we’re particularly lucky when we find archives that come with good lights, a ladder, and a very liberal camera policy. I can’t post anything, but I did walk away with an iPhone full of good stuff–mostly the later aircraft hangars, which I’m coming to think of as the critical turning point in Nervi’s career, and the Palazetto, where the drawings gave up a bunch of secrets. In particular, the question of authorship seems pretty definitively answered–Vittelozzi may be listed as the “architect,” but there are handrail and seating details on Nervi & Bartoli drawing sheets that suggest how the thing really got designed.

There was one happy surprise, too–Nervi’s competition scheme for the Fermi Memorial in Chicago, tossed off in a couple of weeks in 1965. Not, by any stretch, one of the office’s better attempts, but interesting in other ways.

20131108-092226.jpg. Parma is a lovely little university town…looking forward to heading back next month when I’ve strung a few days of appointments at CSAC together. And yes, the Parma ham is as good as advertised and probably worth the trip in itself…


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