Giovanni "Gio" Ponti (born November 18, 1891, Milan, Italy–died September 16, 1979, Milan, Italy) is considered one of the most important and influential Italian architects. He was successful as an architect, industrial designer, furniture designer, artist, and publisher. His influence on modern Italian architecture is incontestable, and he is often referred to as the father of modern Italian design.
He worked in the design profession for over sixty years. During his prolific career, Gio Ponti produced several furniture pieces, decorative artworks, and industrial product designs, extracting old artisan skills while exploring modern production techniques. Additionally, creating critical architectural works in Italy and internationally.
The great designer graduated from Politecnico di Milano in 1921. In 1923, he began working in industrial design, designing ceramics for the Richard Ginori pottery factory near Florence. After two years, he convinced Richard Ginori to participate in the Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (a 1925 Paris exposition), where Ponti's ceramic designs were very successful. During this time, Ponti forged a lasting relationship with the executive and shareholder of Christofle, Tony Bouilhet, who later in life would marry Ponti's niece, and for whom he designed Villa Bouilhet at the Saint-Cloud golf club near Paris, one of Ponti's first housing design projects. During his 15-year association with the Richard Ginori pottery factory, but especially during the early years, Gio Ponti collaborated with craftsmen and artisans to create rich designs with abundant colours, elegant shapes, and skilled craftsmanship, mainly in the neoclassical style. This style was out of favor with the functional and minimal approach of the then-prevalent Italian Rationalism, and it was distinctly present in Ponti's work in the 1930s and 1940s and less and less so in the later years.
In 1928, Ponti delved deep into publishing and began Domus, architecture and design magazine, to energize and assimilate Italian architecture, interior design, and decorative arts. His leadership at Domus would allow him to express his ideas regarding the Novecento artistic movement, a counter-movement to Rationalism, and ensure recognition of top Italian design. He worked at Domus until 1941, when he moved on and founded Stile magazine (Lo Stile–Nella casa e nell'arrendamento), and asked several young architects and critics–among them Lina Bo Bardi, to collaborate with him. However, Ponti closed Lo Stile and returned to Domus in 1947, where he remained involved for the rest of his life.
Many books, magazine articles, and exhibitions have been attributed to exploring the influence and exceptionality of Gio Ponti's work. Throughout his working life, he designed a considerable amount of ceramics, furnishings, and objects. He embarked on many of his designs alone, and some were created in collaboration with other artists and designers of the time. He produced some of the objects himself, while others were made in workshops by expert craftsmen, and some pieces were manufactured by some of the significant furniture manufacturing companies of the time. The diversified production of his work is a clear indicator of his interest in both industrial productions and artisanal production.
In 1923, Ponti made his public debut as a product designer in Italy at the first Biennial Exhibition of the Decorative Arts in Monza, followed by his involvement in organizing the subsequent Triennale exhibitions of Monza and Milan. In 1933, Ponti exposed entrepreneurial spirit and invited Pietro Chiesa to join him and Luigi Fontana to embark on the venture of Fontana Arte, a company that would become a force in Italian furniture design that specialized in manufacturing furniture, lighting, and furnishing accessories.
In the 1940s, Ponti collaborated with Paolo de Poli to produce furniture, decorative panels, and new objects of design and animal motifs in sculptural forms, and in 1946, he started three years of involvement designing Murano glassware for Venini.
During the early 1930s, Gio Ponti and Piero Fornasetti started a long, productive, and somewhat methodic collaboration, as it mainly consisted of Ponti-designed furniture decorated with Fornasetti paintings and engravings. During the 1950s, in line with the other influential Italian designers, such as Nino Zoncada, Gustavo Pulitzer, Paolo de Poli, Pietro Chiesa, and Gino Sarfatti, Ponti designed the interiors, including the furniture for ocean liners. In 1947, Gio Ponti established a long and strong friendship with the Italian architect and designer Ico Parisi and his wife, Luisa Aiani, collaborating in the design studio La Ruota.
In the late 1940s and 1950s, Ponti became a bountiful furniture designer, his chairs and sofas of significant popularity. His work was portrayed with a joyful spirit and a sensitivity to modernism that are persistent. Among his important chair designs are the armchair model no. 811 for Figli di Amedeo Cassina (1950), with an inclined and angular wooden frame and a suspension system for the seat and backrest made out of elastic belts made by Pirelli; the Model 111, also for Figli di Amedeo Cassina (1950); the Diamond sofa, originally made for his house (Cassina,1953); the Mariposa, or butterfly, chair, which was originally designed for the Villa Planchart in Caracas (1955); the successfully omnipresent Superleggera chair, also for Cassina (1957), the crowning achievement of a long and fruitful work relationship designing furniture and objects for Cassina; the Continuum rattan chair for Pierantonio Bonacina (1963); the Dezza armchair for Poltrona Frau in 1966; and the Gabriela chair, or the Sedia di poco sedile, for Pallucco (1971).
Other important Ponti designs for Italian furniture manufacturers include
the series of chairs, lounges, desk chairs, and desks designed in 1950 for the Vembi-Burroughs office in Genoa;
the designs of cabinets and sideboards for Singer & Sons (1951);
the vanity desk or vanity dressing table for Giordano Chiesa (1951);
the side table D 5551 designed initially for his house in Via Dezza in Milan (1954);
the 1960 and 1964 furnishings for the hotels Parco del Principe in Rome and Parco del Principe in Sorrento; and
many furniture pieces he designed in the late 1960s for Tecno, Osvaldo Borsani's furniture manufacturing company.
Gio Ponti participated in the architectural and interior design of two important hotels in Italy: the Hotel Parco Dei Principe in Sorrento (1960) and the Hotel Parco Dei Principe in Roma (1964). The interiors for these two hotels were designed with a unique modern sensuality that evoked sophistication and style. The projects were created in collaboration with Fausto Melotti and Ico Parisi.
In 1966, he invited lighting designer Elio Martinelli to showcase his lamps at the opening of the Eurodomus exhibition, which drove forward Martinelli's career as an innovative light designer.
Among Ponti's architectural masterpieces of the 1930s are the Institute of Mathematics at the University of Rome (1934), the Catholic Press Exhibition in Vatican City (1936), and the first office block of the Montecatini company in Milan (1936). In 1950, Alberto Pirelli, the owner of the Pirelli tire company, selected Gio Ponti to design and develop a building to house his company's offices. Gio Ponti hired architects Pier Luigi Nervi and Arturo Danusso to collaborate with him, and the team began the construction of the Pirelli Tower in 1956. When completed in 1958, the 32-story, 127-meter-high Pirelli Tower, with its unique hexagonal plan, became Italy's first skyscraper and a symbol of the postwar economic recovery of Italy.
Two of his most renowned architectural works, though, were built outside of Italy. One of these works is Villa Planchart, or “El Cerrito” (1955), in Caracas, built for Anala and Armando Planchart at the top of a hill, or cerro, overlooking Caracas. For the Villa Planchart project, Ponti designed the 10,000-square-foot, six-bedroom house, and the furniture and decorative objects. Another of Ponti's most famous works is Villa Nemazee (1957–1964) in Tehran. The Namazee family commissioned this home at the recommendation of Mohsen Foroughi, architect and dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts at Tehran University. For Villa Namezee, Ponti developed a design based on the traditional Iranian courtyard house. The Iranian regime has since revoked the villa's heritage status, making its future uncertain. Italian artist and ceramicist Fausto Melotti collaborated on the interior design and furnishings of both villas.
In the 1970s towards the end of his career, Ponti was on an intense mission to explore transparency and lightness in his work. During this time, he designed and built facades resembling undulated and perforated sheets of paper with geometric shapes and unique patterns. In 1970, he finished the Taranto Cathedral, a white rectangular building with a huge concrete façade punctured with openings. In 1971, he contributed to the exterior envelope design of the Denver Art Museum in Colorado—the only Gio Ponti building in North America. He also submitted the project design for the future Centre Pompidou in Paris.
In 1934, he was given the title of Commander of the Royal Order of Vasa in Stockholm. He also obtained the Accademia d'Italia Art Prize for his artistic merits, the gold medal from the Académie d'Architecture in Paris, and an honorary doctorate from the London Royal College of Art.
Gio Ponti died in 1979 on Via Nezza in Milan. His many prizes and titles throughout his life signify his importance as a designer. His furniture and design objects continue to be sought after by collectors today, indicating the revolutionary status of his mid-century designs.
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