The stadium 'Giovanni Berta' was designed by Pier Luigi Nervi between 1929 and 1930, and built in the area of Campo di Marte between 1930 and 1933. The stadium was recognised by many as one of the most modern and advanced buildings of the time, implementing new, daring architectural solutions and elements, while cleverly drawing on coeval movements and experiences. Its most innovative features were the winding helicoidal stairs, the elegant cantilevered roof covering the grandstand, and the tower. The helicoidal stairs also had a symbolic function, as they resembled massive fasces. The stadium was named after Fascist militant Giovanni Berta, who had been killed by socialists in 1921, and had been honoured with the title of ‘Martyr of the Fascist Revolution’ by the regime.
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Soon after it was built, the Berta stadium was praised by many of the key figures of the architectural scene of the period, in particular the supporters of rationalist architecture, including Pier Maria Bardi, Giuseppe Pagano, and Giovanni Michelucci. On Casabella, Bardi extolled it as one of the few examples of Fascist architecture. Both he and Pagano drew attention to the fact that the Berta stadium was a work of engineering, which however, for the innovative aesthetic impact of its structures, was at the same time ‘voluntarily architectonic’. This comment sums up the debates about architectural forms and structures which were central in that period, and points to what Pagano and Bardi saw as the realization of the rationalist ideal of functionality, anti-decorativism and modernity.
Nervi never joined the rationalist movement and in some occasions he even criticized it, and always fiercely maintained a position of independence from the battles fought in the field of architecture in that period. However, he shared many of the concerns of the rationalist movement, as proved by the fact that the Berta stadium was hailed as one of the few really rationalist (or Fascist) buildings. Nervi, indeed, seems to actualize what Le Corbusier had called, a few years earlier, ‘the engineer’s aesthetic’, and which the Italian rationalist movement had embraced and advocated: an architectural aesthetic dimension not achieved through decoration, but through minimalism, functionality and the display of structural elements. Accordingly, the project of the Berta stadium is characterized by a refinement of forms conducted within the rigorous search for the best and most economical structural scheme, which constituted Nervi’s constructive model. It is worth mentioning that the stadium was praised also for being cost-effective. Nervi’s rational structural solutions and use of resources contributed to the low budget. The terraced steps of the grandstand also served as beams; the innovative design of the cantilevered roof system meant that the foundations did not experience any tensile forces, so they did not need expensive anchorages; and the thin shell roof also reduced the amount of construction material needed (Adriaenssens and Billington 2013).
The primary function of this building was also, importantly, connected to the Fascist regime’s celebration and promotion of sport and body training. The stadium represented a structure that enabled the development of this important sphere of the life of Fascist citizens, in a context which also encouraged healthy competition, as well as producing a mass spectacle which could attract large crowds. However, the Berta stadium was not only a site for practising and watching sport, but had the potential for hosting mass gatherings for other, particularly political, purposes. This potential was recognized by Bardi, who in an article published in Quadrante even envisaged using the stadium to stage the tragic story of the Fascist ‘martyr’ Giovanni Berta, turning the stadium into a ‘mass theatre’ (see 18 BL). The Berta stadium thus embodies the principles of constructive rationality and functionalism, applied to a building which represented a collective space for the encounter between the state, specifically the regime, and the masses.
Adriaenssens, Sigrid, and David P. Billington. 2013. ‘Nervi’s cantilevering stadium roofs: discipline of economy leads to inspiration’. Proceedings of the International Association for Shell and Spatial Structures Symposium 2013, http://formfindinglab.princeton.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/nervi_cantilevering_roof.pdf
Antonelli, Micaela, Annalisa Trentin, and Tomaso Trombetti (eds). 2014. Pier Luigi Nervi: gli stadi per il calcio. Bologna: Bononia University Press.
Bardi, Piero Maria. 1933a. ‘Lo stadio di Firenze’. Casabella 64 (April): 5.
Bardi, Piero Maria. 1933b. ‘(Proposte) Sacra rappresentazione del fascismo’. Quadrante 1, no. 7 (November): 4.
De Seta, Cesare. 1987. Architetti italiani del Novecento. Roma: Laterza.
De Seta, Cesare. 1998. La cultura architettonica in Italia tra le due guerre. Naples: Electa Napoli.
Pagano, Giuseppe. 1933. ‘Ing. Pier Luigi Nervi. Stadio comunale G. Berta a Firenze.’ Casabella 4 (April): 38-41.
Rifkind, David. 2012. The Battle for Modernism: Quadrante and the Politicization of Architectural Discourse in Fascist Italy. Vicenza: Centro internazionale di studi di architettura Andrea Palladio; Venice: Marsilio.
Tentori, Francesco. 1990. P.M. Bardi: con le cronache artistiche de L’Ambrosiano 1930-33. Milan: Mazzotta.