Pier Luigi Nervi – Italian Architect

The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption

Pier Luigi Nervi (1891 – 1979) was an Italian architect born in Sondrio, Lombardy. He studied engineering at the University of Bologna, to 1913. 

Early Career

After experience with a concrete contractor, he set up his firm in Bologna in 1923. His first structure was a 1927 cinema in Naples: His first important work was the 1930-32 Communal Stadium in Florence, widely published as an early example of Modern architecture. As he frequently argued in his writings, he believed that the creation of form was an activity equivalent to that of the artist or technician. 

Strength through form

He became known as the artist of reinforced concrete. His ‘strength through form’ experiments were expressed in his 1948-49 Turin exhibition building, considered his masterpiece, in which biomorphic units were used in a peripherally supported ceiling of enormous span. He later designed buildings that were simpler and quicker to construct.

While inspired by Italian rationalism, in particular by Terragni, he remained stylistically independent of fashion. His Florence Stadium(1930–2), with its massive cantilevered roof framework and spiral stairs, was the first of several of his buildings to achieve international acclaim.

Pier Luigi Nervi and Annibale Vitellozzi, Palazzetto dello Sport a Roma (1956-57)

Between 1946-61, he was a professor of structural engineering in the architecture department of the University of Rome. 

Summary of Works

His other buildings included aeroplane hangars in Orvieto of 1935-38 and in Orbetello and Torre del Lago of 1940-43, 1950 Casino at the Lido in Rome. Then in the Great Hall B, Exhibition Hall, Turin(1947–9), he developed a system of superimposed steel mesh encased in concrete that enabled him to create prefabricated corrugated elements with high tensile strength.

Palazzo del Lavoro, Torino, Italy

Between 1953-57 conference hall of the UNESCO building (with Marcel · Breuer and Bernard Zehrfuss) in Paris, 1955-58 Pirelli building (with Gia Ponti and others) in Milan, 1955 Centre National des Industries (with Jean Prouve) in Paris, 1956 circular exhibition building in Caracas (Venezuela), 1956-57 Palazzetto dello Sport Lavoro in Turin, and 1971 Papal audience chamber in the Vatican in Rome. 

Unesco Headquarter, Paris


Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

Curl, J. S., & Wilson, S. (2015). The Oxford dictionary of architecture. Oxford University Press.

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