PALAZZETTO DELLO SPORT in Rome: Nervi building system.
The 1960 Olympic Games represented a great opportunity for Rome and, as it usually happens in conjunction with the Olympic Games, new buildings, neighbourhoods, and structures, including Nervi’s sports hall were built. The structure was designed for different sports, from basketball to boxing. The idea behind the sports hall is that of a dome placed on top of a 36-butress crown. The surface of the dome is smooth, while the inside is made of intertwined beams of ribs, creating a similar texture to the one of a suspended honeycomb. This texture game soon became a hallmark of Nervi’s signature.
However, the realisation of a simple idea can hide some trouble or just like in this case, an opportunity. Building a dome with such an articulated design, while fulfilling traditional techniques was too much of a challenge. Thus, Nervi invented and patented an innovative production system. He broke down the dome into a multitude of single rhomboidal segments within which, helped by skilled carpenters, he inserted clones of smaller segments, using shapes and embedded counter forms: several rhombuses containing other rhombuses. In doing so, he created a newly designed flooring block. The structure consists of 1600 pieces all made by hand, and once assembled, the individual cuts are indistinguishable. Such an artifact could only be built at that time, during the years of the economic boom, the years of the great Italian craft school. The system is the object of his patent and went down in history as the Nervi system. The engineer then used this system in other architectures.
Against any expectation, although the work required a great handicraft effort, the building was erected in record time and at low cost. Thanks to the advent of the first televisions, Nervi’s sports hall entered homes all around the world.
In the sports hall, Cassius Clay won the Olympic gold medal. The famous photo portraying the champion on the ring under the ribbed dome, went around the world. The hall was published in all major architecture magazines and proclaimed the success of the Italian genius and know-how.