After five years of collaboration, pleased to report that my co-editors and I have just sent off the final proofs for a critical edition of Nervi’s classic, Aesthetics and Technology in Building. We’re hoping it hits the streets this summer, and yes, there will be an event (details to follow).
Nervi was invited to deliver one-third of the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures in Poetry at Harvard in 1961-62, along with fellow designer/engineers Felix Candela and Buckminster Fuller. The Norton Lectures had a long tradition of inviting both traditional poets, and artists whose work evoked poetry, but that year’s invitees were particularly striking. Could engineers be considered poets? In an era of profound optimism about technology’s prospects, this was an inspired choice.
Nervi did not disappoint. He delivered four lectures: one on a general philosophy and history of structural architecture (borrowed, I think, directly from Viollet-le-Duc’s writing), one on the formal possibilities of concrete poured in place, one on the more intricate potential for prefabricated concrete (especially ferrocemento), and one on the future of architecture and his suggestions for architectural education. Taken together, the lectures were a prescription for structure and construction as an architectural grammar, and Nervi was something of a Strunk and White, laying down ironclad principles but also noting that great architecture required an aesthetic sensibility that, famously, “welcomed” the possibilities offered by those principles. While critics generally found Nervi’s recommendations conservative (he was, at the time of publication, in his mid-70s and there were far more radical ideas bubbling up in the architectural world in 1965), his essays–especially the first one–have stood up well and have plenty to offer designers, students and engineers today.
In addition to Nervi’s texts, we’ve commissioned several essays by leading scholars–Gabriele Neri, Alberto Bologna, and Jo Abram–that frame Nervi’s words and the event of the lectures themselves within his career and in the architectural culture of the day. A center spread of new images by German photographer Hans-Christian Schink shows Nervi’s roof patterns in a new light, and an essay by Roberto Einaudi, who served as Nervi’s translator for the lectures, offers previously unpublished details about how these came about and how they became Aesthetics and Technology in Building. It has been a particular honor to work with Einaudi, who has also combed through the original texts–in addition to Nervi, he worked in Kahn’s office, so our discussions have been wide-ranging, to say the least.
Happy to have sent this off in the midst of a quick trip to Rome–seems only too appropriate. The first discussions about bringing this edition out took place during a long lunch at the American Academy in 2014, so hitting the ‘send’ button in close proximity has been apt.
Looking forward to seeing Nervi’s words and images out in the world, as always.