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Modernist Architecture at Twicemodern again! How was architecture taught fifty years ago? What was written way back about it, and by whom? Which books helped the awareness of what great architecture was when the words “mid century modernism” came into vogue?

Lots of questions perhaps, but also some answers and insights as you have come to expect from me over time.


In 1960, an important initiative took place. The publishing company George Braziller Inc. in New York published inexpensive new monographs on architecture in their Masters of World Architecture Series. These softcover books would run a 120 to 130 pages each with lots of photographs usually culled from architectural magazines and architectural archives, and sold at an affordable price of $1.95.

Shown above is an example from this series of books. Number A109 is a monograph on the great Italian architect and structural engineer Pier Luigi Nervi (1891-1979) whose superbly engineered buildings are truly master class.

img544The texts, usually relatively short, would be written by knowledgeable authors or architects themselves. A few years later, these well done books would retail at $2.95 each. The paper quality in most of these books has not stood the test of time well, not really unusual for 50 years later.

The text in this volume is by Ada Louise Huxtable (1921-2013), a well known architectural critic who received the first Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1970. With 10 books written on architecture to her credit, her intellectual rigor is evident in this early monograph as well. She had the opportunity (from 1946 to 1950) as Curatorial Assistant in the Architecture and Design Department at the Museum of Modern Art to sharpen her eye for “good” architectural standards.

From the back cover of the book, we can see no serial numbers assigned to the books already published. The numbers in the series appear on the spine and on the front cover in this instance. The book includes a selected bibliography on the architect as well as a bibliography on books and articles by the architect and a list of built architectural works.

img608img609The only book translated in English listed at the time, written by Nervi is a 1956 book published by F.W. Dodge in New York titled Structures.

Most everything else published about his work are either secondary sources in magazines or written in Italian. An interesting fact, even more so when we read that Nervi was made an Honorary member of the American Institute of Architects, and was awarded a Gold Medal in 1958 by their Philadelphia Chapter. In the early sixties, he was the Norton Professor at Harvard University. His major building in the United States was the George Washington Bridge Bus Station in New York City built in 1963, currently undergoing renovations.

img611Nervi’s architecture can be summarized as visionary, pure poetry to the eye, new in form dictated by his engineering skills, and, as such, he should be considered a form giver and not just a form taker.

All engineering problems allow for more than just one solution, according to Nervi. His architecture has withstood the tooth of time well. His inventions such as the ferro-cement construction allowed for in place casting of roofs that allowed the fabulous roof lines, and great domes he used in his work.

img610Nervi is a true “Brunelleschi of the Twentieth Century”, in the same sense as Eiffel was the engineer of the Nineteenth Century. Inevitably, the question is asked if he was a greater architect than Gio Ponti? Yes, in my opinion, but not as culturally influential outside his field, a trait very unique to Gio Ponti.


img615All pictures are from the book. No design credit is given to neither the cover designer of the book nor to the photographer used in the book. In another post we will cover two more monographs from this series: Eric Mendelsohn and Oscar Niemeyer.