Pier Luigi Nervi in America (part 1) – Hanover

This summer I took a trip to Dartmouth College Campus (Hanover, New Hampshire, USA) to photographically document the artistry in the Leverone Field House (1962) and the Thompson Arena (1975). These are respectively the first and the last structures that the Italian Engineer Pier Luigi Nervi (1891-1979) designed and realized in the United States of America. The Thompson Arena is arguably the last project Nervi saw realised. The other structures are the George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal (1963, New York), Norfolk Scope Arena (1970, Norfolk) and the Saint Mary’s Cathedral (1971, San Francisco).

The Dartmouth Business Manager Richard W. Olmsted saw Nervi’s awe-inspiring sport facilities at the 1960’s Olympic Games in Rome and wanted to bring the same scenographics (ie how structures can enhance experience) to the Dartmouth Campus. Both structural systems consist of a series of reinforced concrete parabolic arches with the typical precast concrete panels using Nervi’s system. The two sport facilities sit opposite each other. They are separated by a road and a row of preserved early 20th century houses, which make you experience them as separate units rather than integrated design.

The Leverone Field house uses four different types of precast panels: diamond-shaped at the crown and triangular panels near the edge beams. This Nervi precast system had not been used in USA before these projects and the American contractors were initially hesitant to adopt it.

Perspective front Leverone Field House
Leverone Field House: Diamond-shaped at the crown and triangular panels near the edge beams.
Leverone Field House interior

On top of the panels sits a thin rc slab. The edge beams rest on vertical and angled A-shaped buttresses that have a rectangular cross-section that tapers towards the foundation.

Leverone Field House: A shaped buttresses clearly visible in the facade

Here is the original sketch and the architectural model of the ribbed shell and an amazing set of construction images.



The Thompson Arena, built 13 years after the Leverone Field House, showcase Nervi’s signature characteristics: a ribbed shell with precast triangular units and buttresses with variable cross-section which twist and taper.

Thompson Arena: twisted and tapered buttresses
Thompson Arena under construction.


These buttresses and panels are reminiscent to the ones in his highly celebrated Palazetto dello Sport (Rome, 1957) which we also find back in the dome of the Norfolk Scope Arena (Norfolk, 1970).

Thompson Arena: twisted and tapered buttresses
Thompson Arena: a fully triangulated shell
Thompson Arena: triangulated elements in construction


I also really like this simple press rc box structure designed by studio Nervi.

Thompson Arena: rc press box

Unfortunately the Thompson Arena received little attention upon its realization and it was not until this decade that its value was highlighted in academic literature by  M. Sung and J. Ochsendorf (2018). The pictures I took of these structures, will hopefully help convince you of their esthetic and engineering value.

When at Dartmouth, I was made aware of an amazing on-line collection of construction pictures of those two halls: a real treasure trove for construction historians. The pictures show the formwork and casting of the slanted columns, the prefabrication and installing of the diamond forms in an American context and might help us unveil more the structural artistry Nervi left in the USA. Some of these images are included in this blog post and iuxtapositioned next to my pictures. These construction images are the Courtesy of Dartmouth College Library.

In memoriam: This year my mentor and friend, Prof. David Billington, passed away. He was the one who opened my eyes to the design philosophy and the works of Pier Luigi Nervi. We even have written two papers together on the topic. To commemorate David, I will feature a series of posts about the works of Pier Luigi Nervi. The posts will focus on his initial and most mature work in Italy (i.e. ribbed floors and his spectular work for the 1960’s Olympic Games), his work in USA where he did not have total control over the construction processes (i.e. Norfolk Scope Arena) and finally about his unrealized designs for the world (i.e. design for the Swindon and Kuwait stadia).

Prof. David Billington at my book launch of “Shell structures for Architecture: Form Finding and Optimization” (2014).


All construction images are Courtesy of Dartmouth College Library.

All contemporary images are credited to me, Sigrid Adriaenssens.


M. Sun, J. Ochsendorf, ‘Nervi’s design and construction methods for two thin-shell structures : the Leverone Field House and Thompson Arena’ in IASS 2018: Creativity in Structural Design, Massachusetts, 2018.




One thought on “Pier Luigi Nervi in America (part 1) – Hanover

  1. I have always wondered: Nervi used those twisting columns of varying cross section in search of a structural advantage? Or are they just a mere aesthetic feature? Thanks in advance, great post!!!


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