James Sutherland History Lecture

The James Sutherland History Lecture takes place at the beginning of each year at the Institutions' headquarters in London. It covers historical topics related to structural engineering.

2019 lecture: Pier Luigi Nervi & the Role of Structure in Architectural Beauty

Date: 5 February 2019
Time: Registration 17:30; lecture 18:00
Venue:  The Institution of Structural Engineers HQ, 47 - 58 Bastwick Street, London, EC1V 3PS 

The James Sutherland History Lecture 2019 will be given by Thomas Leslie, author of Beauty’s Rigor: Patterns of Production in the Work of Pier Luigi Nervi.  Thomas is currently Morrill Professor in Architecture at Iowa State and holds an adjunct position in the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University.

Pier Luigi Nervi was hailed as a master of structural engineering and architectural form; a “poet in concrete”.

What lay behind Nervi’s uncanny grasp of statics and human scale?

How did his buildings achieve such a fine integration?

Using original drawings from the Nervi archives, digital reconstructions of key works, and Nervi’s own written words, this presentation will explore Nervi’s aesthetic philosophy, showing how he negotiated structural and fabricational ‘truths’ with one another to create works that celebrated the constraints that he practiced within.


James Sutherland was an engineer of considerable renown, specialising in prestressed and precast concrete structures.  James was also a scholar of engineering history, doing substantial work on cast iron amongst other matters. 

In 1972, James set up a study group called 'Archaeology of Structures'. In 1973, the group was reformed under the title 'History of Structural Engineering'. The History of Structural Engineering Study Group organised its first annual lecture (then known as the Star History Lecture) in 1989 and this was delivered by Dr. Euan Corbett on 'The rise and fall of iron ship construction'.

In 1992, James Sutherland retired as Convenor of the Group. As an enduring mark of appreciation, the annual lecture was retitled the Sutherland History Lecture. James himself delivered the first lecture under its new title in 1994.

Recordings of previous lectures are available on the Institution’s YouTube channel.

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