MODERNIST MONDAY: Gio Ponti

Welcome back to #ModernistMondays! At TTC, we are constantly inspired by modernist architects and artists from past and present. To showcase some of our favorites, we launched #ModernistMondays, where we highlight one modernist each month to explore with ten quick facts. You can keep up with #ModernistMondays on the TTC Blog, or our Instagram page! Our September feature is Italian modernist architect, journalist, and product designer, Gio Ponti.

Two portraits of Ponti

Italian master Giovanni “Gio” Ponti was born in 1891 in Milan. After serving in World War I as a captain, he studied architecture at Politecnico di Milano University, graduating in 1921. Ponti met and married his wife, Giulia Vimercati, in the same year. The marriage gave him access to Milan’s elite families, one of whom, the Borlettis, were financiers of arts and architecture.

In the early 1920s, Ponti worked with fellow architects Mino Fiocchi and Emilio Lancia, and together they were inspired by neoclassical Italian design. From 1923 to 1928, Ponti lent his artistic skills to porcelain brand Richard Ginori, as a director. There, he revamped the company’s offerings which are highly coveted pieces of art-deco history today. 

Gio Ponti for Richard Ginori

As a respected design writer and industry voice, Ponti founded “Domus” magazine in 1928. The popular magazine is still in print today. Of the magazine’s mission, Ponti said that “the house … should not be in fashion, for it should not go out of fashion.” The publication helped to promote Italian design.

“Domus” (1928) and “Domus” (2021)

In 1933, Ponti founded his own firm, and was receiving notable commissions. The firm was primarily focused on modernism, exemplified by their ‘Domus’  project; ten apartment buildings in Milan, as well as a building at the University of Rome.

‘Domus’ apartments (left), University of Rome maths building (right)

The Milan Bienielle, a celebration of Italian art and, eventually, architecture, invited Ponti to direct the event and grow its international reach, which he did successfully, and continued to hold the role annually for the rest of his career. Around this time, Ponti also began working as a professor at his alma mater, Politecnico di Milano University, a position he continued until the 1960s. 

A Ponti-designed booth at Milan Bienielle (left) A poster for a later editon of the festival (right)

As if the first thirty years of his career were not impressive enough, the 1950s were considered Ponti’s prime. Having already served as an architect, designer, painter, journalist, and publisher, Ponti continued to expand his ever-growing list of accomplishments. This period saw Ponti complete a corporate campus for a large Italian chemicals company, the interiors of lavish Italian ocean liners, multiple residences in Venezuela and Iran, and The Italian Culture Institute in Sweden. 

Villa Planchart, Caracas (left) Montecatini Campus, Italy (right)
An ocean liner interior by Ponti (left) Villa Nemazee, Iran (right)

Also during the 1950s, Ponti delved into original product design. He created an espresso machine for Italian brand ​​La Pavoni, sculptural cutlery for Sabattini, a toilet for Ideal Standard, furnishings with Fornasetti, and the iconic Superleggera chair, which is now one of his legacy trademarks. According to legend, Ponti once threw the chair out of a window to prove its durability.

(top left) La Pavoni (top right) Sabattini (bottom left) Fornasetti (bottom right) Ideal Standard (far right) promotional image for the Superleggera chair

From 1956-1960, Ponti designed and oversaw construction on what is now considered his masterpiece: the Pirelli Tower in Milan. The 32-story skyscraper became a symbol of Italy’s resurgence after World War II. For a time, it was the tallest building in Europe.

exterior and interior views of the Pirelli Tower

In the 1970s, the final years of his career, Ponti designed Taranto Cathedral in Taranto, Italy, which is recognizable for its concrete facade with many openings. In 1971, he designed the exterior of the Denver Art Museum in Colorado. During this time, Ponti was fascinated with lightness, and in search of ways to make spaces feel as airy as possible.

Taranto Cathedral (left) Denver Art Museum (right)

Although Ponti passed away in 1979, his influence and perspective on Italian Modernism is alive in his work around the world, and in the work of those who he has inspired. “Domus” continues to publish issues every month, and his most memorable furniture designs are still manufactured and enjoyed in homes around the globe.

SOURCES:
Wikipedia, “Gio Ponti;” Architectural Review, “Gio Ponti (1891-1979);” Artnet, “Gio Ponti;” Barnebys, “Gio Ponti;” Divisare, “Gio Ponti”