Giovanni "Giò" Ponti (1891-1979) architect, industrial designer, furniture designer, artist, publisher, lecturer
Gio Ponti was born in Milan, Italy, in 1891. He studied architecture at Politecnico di Milano, receiving his degree in 1921. In 1923 he started his first job as artistic director for ceramics manufacturer Richard Ginori in Milan, as well as designing a line of furnishings, Domus Nova, for Rinascente department stores. Ponti would win the Grand Prix at the 1925 Paris Expo for his work with Richard-Ginori, and his experience there successively informed his creative vision in other disciplines as well. "Industry is the style of the 20th century, its mode of creation," he wrote at the time.
Ponti’s first architectural partnership was with Mino Fiocchi and Emilio Lancia in 1923, and then as Studio Ponti e Lancia PL until 1933. During this period he built houses both in Milan and in Paris. In 1927 he founded Il Labirinto with a group of designers including Lancia, Venini, and Chiesa, with the objective of producing high-quality furniture and decorative pieces. Together with architect Giovanni Muzio, a member of the Milanese neo-classical movement Novecento Italiano, Ponti built the Monument to the Fallen and Casa Rasini (1929), and the Domus Julia–Domus Fausta (1930). He formed a new partnership, Studio Ponti-Fornaroli-Soncini in 1933. Their first major commission was the original headquarters for the Montecatini firm, which became a symbol of rationalist Milan architecture. This was followed by commissions for Fiat, and the Palazzo del Liviano for University of Padua, for which Ponti also painted the frescos.
Ponti designed lighting for companies such as Artemide, Venini, and Fontana Arte, including such enduring designs as the Billia Lamp. Meanwhile, Ponti had founded the art and architecture magazine Domus in 1928, with the mission of renewing Italian architecture, interior design, and decorative arts. He left in 1941 and started Stile magazine, resuming his editorship of Domus in 1947 for the rest of life. As well as writing, he lectured at the university level, further promoting his vision of integrating art and architecture, and was Professor of Architecture at Politecnico de Milano from 1936-1961. He also became involved in organising the Trienniale Exhibitions of Monza and Milan.
In 1946 Ponti started a three-year project designing Murano glassware for Venini. In 1951 he completed the second Montecatini Palazzo, situated next to the original. But the commission that would prove the most defining of his carreer was the 32-story Pirelli Tower (with Fornaroli, Rosselli, and Nervi). Upon completion in 1958, it became a veritable symbol of modern Milan and of Italy’s economic ascendence. The Pirelli Tower would help win Ponti numerous commissions worldwide, such as the Villa Planchart in Caracas (1958), known as the "Butterfly House" because of the way it gently rests on the landscape, with external walls that appear detached from one another, as well as from the roof and ground. He also dedicated time to industrial design in the 1950s, and designed pieces for Cassina that woud become classics. Among these are the Superleggera Chair (1957), named for being so light that a child can lift it with one finger, and the equally famous Due Foglie Sofa, named for its two distinctive, leaf-like curving lines. In 1957 he designed his house in Via Dezza, where he would reside for the rest of his life.
In the 1960s Ponti designed two Milanese churches: San Francesco, and San Carlo Borrome. Turning attention to the East, he designed administrative buildings in Islamabad, the Daniel Koo villa in Hong Kong, and department store fronts in Singapore and Hong Kong. Nearing 80, Gio Ponti continued producing important works, significantly the Cathedral of Taranto (1970) and the Denver Art Musuem North Building (1971), an important contribution to American architecture. Seven stories tall, the North Building has 24 different sides, and is covered with over one million tiles of reflective gray glass.
In addition to creating lines of home and office furnishings, Ponti often conceived all the furnishings for his architectural projects, including lamps, desks, coffee and side tables, chandeliers, bedroom furniture, and decorative accessories. Always seeking to blend comfort and design, as well as reinterpreting classic styles, he applied his aesthetic in all his capacities. Architect, industrial designer, craftsman, artist, writer, and design advocate - the range of Ponti’s output is so prolific as to require nearly encyclopedic cataloguing. Today Gio Ponti is recognized as one of the 20th century’s most influential architects and designers.
"Love architecture, be it ancient or modern. Love it for its fantastic, adventurous and solemn creations; for its inventions; for the abstract, allusive and figurative forms that enchant our spirit and enrapture our thoughts. Love architecture, the stage and support of our lives." - Giò Ponti
Selected Museum Collections:
Museum of Modern Art, New York: Leggera Side Chair, 1951; Arma Veritatis, 1936; Glass
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Centerpiece, 1950, enameled metal; Tableware, 1951
Brooklyn Musuem: Bottle with Stopper, ca. 1949
Queens Museum of Art: “Gio Ponti: A Metaphysical World”, 2001
Design Museum, London: "Gio Ponti: A World", 2002
La Triennale di Milano: “Expressions of Gio Ponti”, 2011
Amant L'Architettura (In Praise of Achitecture) 1957: new version of essays Ponti originally
published in 1940
Titles and Honors:
"Commander" of the Royal Order of Vasa in Stockholm
Art Prize, Accademia d’Italia
Gold Metal, Paris Academie
Honorary Doctorate, London Royal College of Art