A film by Heinz Emigholz
2012, 100 minutes
No. 173

Parabeton begins with the first still existing dome structure in Baiae near Naples, built in the first century B.C. It is followed in chronological order by seventeen buildings by the Italian building engineer Pier Luigi Nervi (1891-1979), including the Pirelli tower in Milan, the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, the House of Labor in Turin, the grand Sports Arena in Rome and the Papal Audience Hall at the Vatican. These sequences are interrupted by cinematic studies of Ancient Roman concrete constructions from the first century B.C., including the Pantheon and the Caracalla thermal baths in Rome, as well as the Hadrians Villa in Tivolo. 

Considered by many to be the Architect‘s Architect of the 20th century, Pier Luigi Nervi is the creator of style-forming constructions and a grand master of concrete buildings. In its gorgeous compositions and cinematography, this wondrous documentary suggests a relationship between Nervi‘s bold constructions and the groundbreaking Roman inventions of 2000 years ago. 

Pier Luigi Nervi
Pier Luigi Nervi (1891-1979) earned his diploma in engineering in 1913 and always considered himself a civil engineer rather than an architect. For him, building construction was both an art and a science. Since the 1930‘s, he has designed and built extreme roof and dome constructions and concrete frames for large buildings. 

An ingenious concrete constructor and frame planner, Nervi regularly collaborated with other architects. His own designs and creations remain style-forming to this day for arenas, halls and skyscrapers – cantilevered roof constructions, sweeping staircases, arches held by diagonally crossing strutted concrete beams, corrugated concrete elements and sail-shaped and triangular concrete constructions for columnless cupola roofs. 

He used insights from geometry for the development of a new kind of shell construction, generating three-dimensional lattices from concrete ribs covered with concrete surfaces. Nervi also developed a budget-friendly economical style of construction with ready-made concrete modules. When looked at from differing perspectives, his netlike arches constantly create new, almost ornamental, moiré-like images. 

The introduction of steel framework has enabled a separation between function and decoration, but in Nervi‘s work, as with Maillart, Ferro concrete shapes its constructions and simultaneously turns functional primary structures into complex geometric patterns. The patterns vary depending on the viewer‘s position and can be understood as ornamentations that owe their aesthetic appeal to the material they have been crafted from.

Official Selection, Berlin Film Festival

“A richly rewarding experience… an illuminating documentary on Italian architecture that casts a steadily entrancing spell… The latest in an ongoing series of exquisite architecture documentaries by German veteran Heinz Emigholz.” – Hollywood Reporter

“The art of concrete as a medium rivets the eye of the film world’s most acute observer of architecture, Heinz Emigholz... The visual pleasure of Emigholz’s work is in its accumulating information – not only seeing and comprehending each building as it appears, but also comparing a given architect’s successive buildings, as if the viewer is in an ever-moving gallery. That’s also the case here, but with the added excitement of alternating between Nervi’s buildings and Roman examples that directly influenced him.” – Variety