Giovanni Ponti, known as Gio Ponti, was called the Architect of Future as his creations were way ahead of his time. He was born in Milan on 18th November 1891. Gio was an architect, industrial designer, teacher, and artist of the 20th century.
Gio Ponti is known as the creator of modern Italian architecture all over the world. In a career that spanned almost six decades, he made terrific creations, industrial designs, and beautiful decorative artworks. His models are not only famous in Italy but all over the world. Ponti’s work is a representation of Italy, especially Milan.
Italian Architect Fulvio Irace believed that no other architect could represent Milan in their creations the way Gio Ponti did. According to Irace, Ponti expressed the true essence of life that Milan had. He did this by striking a beautiful balance between modern innovative creations and traditional Italian designs.
Furthermore, Gio Ponti worked as a Professor of Architecture at the Polytechnic University of Milan from 1936-1961.
Early influences in Gio Ponti’s work
In 1921, Gio graduated from the Polytechnic University of Milan in Architecture. He entered into the industrial design in 1923 when he started working for Richard Ginori Pottery Factory based in Florence. While working there, Gio began to follow his passion for decorative products by designing ceramics, vases, and other objects.
In 1925, he suggested Richard Ginori showcase his works at an exhibition in Paris. This exhibition put the spotlight on Ponti for his beautiful ceramic works, making him famous in the designing world. In 1927, he started a studio in Milan with Emilio Lancia.
Moreover, Gio Ponti had a good relationship with Christofle and Tony Bouilhet. This led him to design Villa Bouilhet at the Saint-Cloud Golf Club, which was near Paris. It was one of Ponti’s earliest designs, which used contemporary and traditional styles. Tony Bouilhet later married Ponti’s niece Carla Borletti.
Gio Ponti worked with the Ginori Factory for 15 years. During which he actively worked with artisans and craftsmen to produce pieces that were full of color and various shapes. His creations had a touch of the Neo-Classical era.
This approach by Gio Ponti was different from the Minimalist style of Rationalism that existed in that period. Ponti had traces of this style in his creations from 1930-1940, which became less in the coming years.
Gio Ponti felt that there needed to be a platform to showcase Italian designs and artworks all over the world. This thought led to the birth of Domus Magazine in 1928. This magazine displayed modern Italian architecture and interior design.
The magazine gave him the right to express his views regarding the Novecento artistic movement, which was different from Rationalism. Domus became Ponti’s best creation that showcased the art of an authentic Italian lifestyle.
The magazine opened with a fantastic article named ‘The Italian-style Home.’ This article showed Ponti’s vision of simplistic and modern art. This design was a collection of ideas by Ponti.
Gio Ponti believed that art, design, and architecture should create a living space that can nurture the human soul. But it should also hold on to its traditional Italian roots without being too flashy.
Domus – A pioneer in Design and Innovation
Most of the works published in Domus did not conform to the International standards of publishing. These were innovative works with a touch of modernism in them.
As the director of Domus, he had close acquaintances with international figures such as Charles and Ray Eames and Bernard Rudolfsky.
Rudolfsky so much inspired Gio Ponti that he later credited him for influencing him to come up with the theme, “Mediterranean Character.” Gio Ponti once said in a famous interview, “The Mediterranean taught Rudolfsky and Rudolfsky taught me.”
Ponti was the director of Domus till 1941, after which he founded Stile Magazine. He invited many young talented architects and critics such as Lina Bo Bardi to work with him in this magazine.
But later in 1947, he shut down Stile and rejoined Domus magazine for the rest of his life. Domus became a successful creation of Gio Ponti.
It created a niche for itself with its contemporary and mid-century modern Italian designs. Even after 90 years, Domus still leads the Designing World with its beautiful products and creations.
Collaborations of Gio Ponti
Many of his creations were the result of collaborations with other artists and architects, while the remaining was his solo creativity. Some of the leading furniture companies also manufactured pieces designed by him.
Gio Ponti showed his artistic side in 1923. He took part as a Product Designer in Italy at the first Biennial Exhibition of the Decorative Arts in Monza. After this, he participated in organizing the Triennial exhibitions of Milan and Monza.
In the year, 1933 Gio Ponti invited Pietro Chiesa and Luigi Fontana to work with him. At that time, they were the largest glass manufacturer in Italy. This collaboration led to the creation of Fontana Arte. This venture became a leading manufacturer of Italian Interior design products.
Later, in the 1940s, he worked with Paolo de Poli. They got involved in designing furniture, decorative panels, and animal motifs.
From 1946, he gave three years for the design of Murano glassware for Venini.
He worked with Piero Fornasetti for a certain period. During this period, Ponti’s creations had Fornasetti’s paintings or engravings. In the 1950s, Ponti designed many creative interior pieces and furniture for ocean liners.
In 1947, Gio Ponti started a strong and successful friendship with Italian designer Ico Parisi as they collaborated in the design studio La Ruota.
Gio Ponti’s Furniture Designs
By the late 1940s, Gio Ponti became a well-known furniture designer whose creations were simple. Yet, they had a sense of modernism – a quality found in all of his creations.
Some of his furniture innovations include Armchair model no. 811 and 111, designed for Cassina (1950). The Diamond Sofa designed for his house and the Butterfly chair for the Villa Planchart (1955) at Caracas.
Out of his furniture creations, the Superleggera chair is probably the finest, designed for Cassina (1957).
Moreover, some of his other creations include the Continuum Rattan chair, the Gabriella chair, and the Dezza armchair.
Gio Ponti also designed some furniture pieces for offices like Vembi Burroughs office in Genoa, Singer and Sons, Giordano Chiesa.
He also worked on the interior decorations of hotels. Ponti designed the interior of the hotels Parco Dei Principe, in Rome, and Parco Dei Principe in Sorrento. For these projects, he worked alongside Fausto Melloti, Ico Parisi, and other designers.
During his long career, Gio Ponti created a vast number of ceramics, furnishings, and other objects that expressed his passion for arts. There are many books, journals, or exhibitions that showcase Ponti’s work on industrial design, furniture, and artworks.
By the 1950s, Ponti indulged in creating pieces such as an espresso machine for La Pavoni and the Visetta sewing machine for Visa. He also made sanitary facilities, cutlery pieces, and lighting furnishings for famous brands.
He explored his artistic passion in every area of design, thereby not limiting himself to a particular area of profession.
The Superleggera: Simple and Stylish
“By taking out inactive matter and weight and finding the ‘limit’ of the form with the structure. It can be done wisely without artistic gesture respecting the utility and solidity.”
-Gio Ponti’s thoughts on the Superleggera
The Superleggera is by far one of the most beautiful furniture pieces created by Gio Ponti. It became a commercial success with its simplicity, elegance, and comfort level.
He had visited the town of Chiavari in the 1940s, where he saw the Chiavari chair, which later inspired him to create the Superleggera.
The crafting of the Chiavari chair is done in maple or cherry. This gave the chair a sense of delicacy but with a touch of neoclassical style.
But, he felt the Chiavari chair to be a little heavy and bulky. So, Gio Ponti decided to explore the Chiavari chair by making his version more light and efficient.
Ponti’s leggera chair is super light, weighing only 1.7 kilograms or 3.5 pounds. The chair was very durable because of its slot together joints and closed gained seat base, which could carry the weight of any person.
The top part of the chair made the sitter’s experience more comfortable. It became an instant hit because of its clean style, strength, and utmost comfort.
After its first manufacturing design at Cassina, the chair had to go through many design changes. Ponti ensured that the leggera chair was perfect.
The Superleggera chair is a beautiful piece of furniture and is still in production even after fifty years.
Gio Ponti’s Collaboration with Cassina
Gio Ponti’s collaboration with Cassina was the most innovative and fruitful in his long artistic career. It gave birth to several furniture pieces that were way ahead of their time. Ponti took innovation for home furnishings on a different level after his creations with Cassina.
During this period, he designed furniture pieces such as the Leggera chair, the Distix, Round, Mariposa, or Lotus chairs. Even today, these pieces are the classics of Italian interior design.
Influential Architectural Work
Gio Ponti created beautiful home furniture and artworks, but he also got involved in large-scale architectural works. These will be an inspiration for young artists for years to come. Let us look at some of his inspiring creations.
Some of his remarkable designs include the Institute of Mathematics at the University of Rome (1934). An office block for the Montecatini Company in Milan (1936), and the Catholic Press Exhibition in Vatican City in 1936.
The Pirelli company owner, Alberto Pirelli, approached Gio Ponti in 1950, asking him to design a building for his offices. It led to Ponti’s collaboration with other architects such as Arturo Danusso and Pier Luigi Nervi for creating the Pirelli tower in 1956.
After its completion in 1958, the 32-story building was the first skyscraper of Italy. The Pirelli Tower’s unique hexagonal design made it a symbol of Italian architecture.
Another of Ponti’s outstanding work was the Villa Planchart or El Cerrito made in 1955 in Caracus. Ponti designed this 10,000 square foot villa for Armando and Anala Planchart on top of a cliff overlooking Caracus. He created not only the six-bedroom Villa but also the home furnishings and decorative pieces for the Villa interior.
He also designed the Villa Nemazee in Tehran for the Nemazee family. Gio Ponti made sure that the Villa followed the traditional Iranian style of having courtyards in homes.
In the last decade of his career, Gio Ponti started working towards more transparent models and light textures. He finished the Taranto Cathedral in 1970, a white rectangular building with a massive concrete facade with holes in it.
Ponti also involved in developing the exterior design of the Denver Art Museum in Colorado in 1971, his only architectural work in North America.
Awards and Achievements
During his lifetime, he achieved awards, such as the Commander of the Royal Order of Vasa in Stockholm in 1934. Furthermore, Ponti got the Accademia d’Italia Art Prize for his artistic contributions.
He also got a gold medal from the Accademia d’Architecture in Paris. The London College of Arts also presented him with an honorary doctorate.
Gio Ponti’s gift to Italy
Gio Ponti passed away in 1979 in Milan. He left behind a collection of beautiful and innovative designs that show his passion for Italian Architecture. Ponti’s love for simplicity and innovation was put together in his creations that reflect mid-century modern Italian designs.
Whether it is the furniture pieces or the Italian style houses that he designed, he expressed his dedication and passion for art and simple living.
After Gio Ponti’s death, there were several exhibitions worldwide to showcase his creations. Gio Ponti didn’t stick to the architectural world; instead, he followed his passion by working in Industrial design.
His productions and designs will always be an inspiration for artists all over the world. Gio Ponti’s love for Italian designs shows how one can be modern, yet they can be connected to their roots.