“[The majority of the objects in our lives are created and characterised by industry […]”. Thus spoke Gio Ponti (1891 – 1979), one of the most important architects, designers and essayists of the twentieth century.
Born in Milan in 1891 to Enrico Ponti and Giovanna Rigonere, Giovanni (“Gio”) Ponti served in WWI as a captain in the Pontonier Corps, for which he received the Italian Military Cross and Bronze Medal. After his military service he attended Politecnico di Milano University, where he received a degree in Architecture in 1921. The same year he married Giulia Vimercati.
Ponti began his career in partnership with Emilio Lancia and Mino Fiocchi, working with the pair from 1923 through 1927, and was greatly influenced by the neoclassical Novecento Italian movement. Indeed, his career took him far beyond the return to neoclassicism. In 1923 he debuted publicly at the Biennial Exhibition of the Decorative Arts in Monza. Gio Ponti created, in addition to the architectural works that bear his unmistakable stamp, a vast amount of work in the furniture sector, and was a promoter of Italian industrial design who introduced the idea of “sophisticated,” economic, “democratic” to modern furnishings. This is demonstrated in the “expression” of his home design ideas in his three Milanese houses– fully furnished in the “Ponti” style: via Randaccio, 1925, Casa Laporte in via Brin, 1926 and the last in via Dezza, in 1957. During this time period he also designed Bouilhet villa in Garches, Paris (1926) and Monument to the Fallen in Piazza Sant’Ambrogio with Novecento architect Giovanni Muzio. The Casa Rasini apartment blocks in Milan and the Domus Julia–Domus Fausta complex on via Letizia, followed. During roughly the same period, he worked at Manifattura Ceramica Richard Ginori, involving some major Italian artists of the time, including sculptor Salvatore Saponaro; Ponti’s involvement in creating majolica vases, porcelain, and sanitary ware (sinks and toilets) revolutionized the company’s entire output.
Geo Ponti embodied the very definition of “prolific”, and sought a merging of expressiveness and uniformity. He worked for Cassina designing an angular armchair “Distex”, the very famous 1957 “Superleggera” (Superlight) chair, which was very strong but also so light that it could be lifted up by a child using just one finger—and the very famous “Due Foglie” sofa. He also created a line of furnishings, Domus Nova, for the Italian Rinascente department stores, glass bottles for Vitra, Reed and Barton flatware, as well as lamps for Artemide and Fontana Arte. The most famous of these is the “Billia”, whose silhouette remains as fresh today as it did in 1931.
Ending his partnership in 1933 with Fiocchi and continuing on with Lancia, at a later juncture he teamed up with engineers Antonio Fornaroli and Eugenio Soncini to form Studio Ponti-Fornaroli-Soncini, whose first commission was the headquarters of Montecatini, an Italian chemical firm (1936). Several other university and industrial commissions followed, including offices for Fiat, the School of Mathematics at the University of Rome and the Palazzo del Liviano at the University of Padua, Ponti himself painting the frescoes for that commission. 1950 brought the win of a commission to design Milan’s 32 story Pirelli Tower, in collaboration with Arturo Danusso and Pier Luigi Nervi (for which construction began in 1956), and in 1951 the IINA l’Istituto Nazionale per le Assicurazione housing project in Milan. In 1952 he created yet another collaborative partnership with architects Alberto Rosselli and Alberto Fornarelli, known as Studio Ponti-Fornaroli-Rosselli, (1952 – 1976), an association which continued on with Fornaroli after Rosselli’s death.
Ponti engaged in hotel design as well, one commission being the Hotel della Città et de la Ville and the Centro Studi Fondazione Livio e Maria Garzanti, in Forlì, Italy (1953 – 1957), and another, the Parco dei Principi Hotel, Sorrento (1960 – 1962). International attention came thereafter, garnering Ponti commissions in Caracas, Venezuela (Villa Planchart), Baghdad, Hong Kong, the Milanese churches San Francesco , the church at Ospedale San Carlo (1967) and the Taranto Cathedral (1971).
Concattedrale Gran Madre di Dio, Taranto Italy
Pirelli Tower, Milan
Gio Ponti desk from Pirelli Tower
In 1928 he founded Domus magazine, and later, Stile, which he edited until 1948. After a hiatus from Domus from 1941 – 1948, he returned there and remained editor until his death. From 1936 to 1961 he worked as a professor on the permanent staff of the Faculty of Architecture at Politecnico di Milano University. In 1934 in Stockholm he was bestowed the title of “Commander” of the Royal Order of Vasa a Swedish order of chivalry, the Accademia d’Italia prize, the gold medal from the Paris Academie de Architecture, as well as an honorary Doctorate from the London Royal College of Art. His furnishings for Molteni & Company were exhibited at the Salone del Mobile 2012.
“The most resistant element is not wood, is not stone, is not steel, is not glass. The most resistant element in building is art. Lets make something very beautiful. “
Gio Ponti died at the age of 87 In Milan, Italy.
D.153.1 “Distex”armchair, exhibited at the Salon de Mobile, 2012