Iowa State architecture professor receives opportunity to collaborate on a project in Rome

The outside of Stadio Flaminio in 1960.

Courtesy of Getty Images

The outside of Stadio Flaminio in 1960.

Kiana Brincks

The Flaminio Stadium in Rome is in need of renovations.

This stadium, created by engineer and architect Pier Luigi Nervi along with his son Antonio Nervi, holds cultural and historical significance. This importance is why Thomas Leslie, Morrill Professor in Architecture, Pickard Chilton Professor in Architecture and Director of Graduate Education, has a passion to save this structure.

Thomas Leslie and a team of researchers, scholars and engineers from Rome were chosen to collaborate on a plan to preserve this work of Nervi. Nervi has created a vast amount of well-known architectural work.

“Nervi has always been one of my heroes. He was trained as an engineer, never had an architecture degree, but went on to design and build these amazing structures,” Leslie said. “I have always been really passionate about his works and use them all the time in class since they are such great examples.”

With a passion for Nervi’s work, Leslie wants to create the best plan in order to conserve the stadium. Italy was an Axis power in World War II, meaning the economy had a lot of rebuilding to do. Leslie explained how important of a role the stadium played in symbolizing the economy improving after its downfall.

“1960 Olympics were a way for Italy to reintroduce themselves as full participants in reform. At that point the economy was going well and Italy was culturally one of the capitals of the world,” Leslie said. “Design played a huge role in the Olympics. Nervi did not just the stadium but a couple of the arenas. His buildings became symbols of the Olympics which were symbols of rebirth in Italy.”

Passion is one aspect which will lead to Leslie working hard on this project, however there are some obstacles the committee needs to keep in mind. There are many building codes required by the city of Rome. The committee needs to work on critically analyzing the up-to-date codes.

Building codes were much different when construction of the Flaminio Stadium began in 1958 and was completed in 1959.

“We didn’t have accommodations for people with disabilities like we do today and we didn’t worry about so much about crowd issues like we do today,” Leslie said.

Leslie described how a lot of the work is going to be understanding the details. He thinks the design team is going to look at the big strategy, which is analyzing how to bring a 21st century crowd into the stadium and make it useful for whatever sport it is going to be used for. Leslie emphasized consideration of all the things you need to make stadium useful today, including how to put a jumbotron into a 60-year-old stadium. 

The design team is also going to have to look at a lot of tactical detail. Such as, how to preserve concrete that has been sitting out in weather conditions since 1958 and rectifying bad decisions that lead to problem areas in the building structure. The big planning work and thinking very specifically about preserving the fabric already there are two key components in the planning and design process.

This committee will strive to find creative ways to ensure the building is safe while preserving historical components. It will be challenging, but fun and not an impossible task.

Leslie discussed being honored to be chosen as a committee member from Nervi’s grandson’s wife, who is in charge of the family foundation. The job will take dedication, but since Leslie is familiar with the other people working with the project he is not worried about collaborating together being difficult. They all have a passion for Nervi’s work and are capable of the task at hand.

“My background is almost all in practice, I worked for a firm in London which also did integration of art and engineering,” Leslie said. “My research has been mostly history but I think what I do bring is that I understand practice and understand how architects and engineers collaborate together. Which gives me a different lense for these projects.”

Having a viewpoint with an interdisciplinary practice helps Leslie stand out in this project.

The committee is hoping the plan for the Flaminio Stadium will be approved and can be implemented within the next couple years.