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Structure is the star at exhibition space Palazzo del Lavoro

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Monica Pidgeon’s 1961 photograph of Palazzo del Lavoro by Pier Luigi Nervi and Gio Ponti shows the remarkable exhibition space in its prime

The Palazzo del Lavoro in Turin, one of the most remarkable achievements of the great Italian engineer Pier Luigi Nervi, was designed in collaboration with the architect Gio Ponti for the Expo 61, which celebrated the centenary of Italy’s unification. The vast roof of this exhibition space was supported by 16 independent ‘umbrellas’, each made of steel beams fixed to a central concrete column and separated by strip skylights; Nervi’s solution not only reveals but emphasises the role of the structure in creating architectural space. The exterior of the building was glazed all around.

This photograph, taken by the then Architectural Design editor Monica Pidgeon, shows one of Nervi’s columns in the background of Ponti’s exhibition display. This, as in many previous expos, celebrates technological progress – specifically, in this case, its role in the future of the Italian economy. The expo also aimed to leave a legacy of reusable infrastructures to the city of Turin. The building stopped being used in the 1970s and, in spite of a series of proposals for its adaptation, is now in a grave state of neglect.