Singapore Tatler Homes - - OCT/NOV 2018 -

A ret­ro­spec­tive on the work of in­flu­en­tial Ital­ian ar­chi­tect and de­signer Gio Ponti

Most peo­ple who think of Gio Ponti pic­ture his el­e­gantly sim­ple Su­per­leg­gera chair, cre­ated for Cassina in 1957—a chair so light that a child could pick it up with one fin­ger—or the ra­zor-edged Pirelli Tower which, when it was built in Mi­lan in 1958, was the tallest build­ing in Europe. But the re­mark­ably ver­sa­tile Ital­ian ar­chi­tect and de­signer de­serves recog­ni­tion for so much more. Dur­ing a pro­lific six-decade cre­ative ca­reer he worked for 120 com­pa­nies, built projects in 13 coun­tries, pro­duced and con­trib­uted to 560 is­sues as a mag­a­zine ed­i­tor, wrote poetry, painted and taught. Not sur­pris­ingly, he was a renowned worka­holic sleep­ing only five hours a night. When he died in 1979 at the age of 87, he was re­garded as one of the most in­flu­en­tial and revo­lu­tion­ary Ital­ian ar­chi­tects and de­sign­ers of the 20th cen­tury, hav­ing jump­started Italy’s cul­tural re­nais­sance of the 1950s.


Born in Mi­lan in 1891, Ponti was the only child of a mid­dle-class Mi­lanese fam­ily. Hav­ing ob­tained a de­gree in ar­chi­tec­ture in Mi­lan, in­stead of fol­low­ing the usual route of join­ing an ar­chi­tec­ture stu­dio, young Ponti spent most of the 1920s and ‘30s work­ing with the 200-year-old Floren­tine porce­lain com­pany Richard Gi­nori, and adding rich colours and flam­boy­ant forms to its his­toric de­signs. Ponti be­lieved that ar­chi­tec­ture was much more than cre­at­ing a struc­ture, and should ex­tend to fur­ni­ture and ac­ces­sories. The happy re­sult is an eclec­tic oeu­vre rang­ing from stage sets and cos­tumes for Mi­lan’s La Scala to glass­ware for Venini in Mu­rano, as well as build­ings, from con­tem­po­rary homes to a cathe­dral. Ponti also cre­ated nu­mer­ous ‘di­ver­ti­men­tos’ such as glasses, mir­rors and bot­tles, ink and water­colour sketches on pa­per, and beau­ti­fully crafted one-off pieces of fur­ni­ture, of­ten cre­ated es­pe­cially for par­tic­u­lar spa­ces.


Post-war Italy was a heady time for de­sign­ers and some of Ponti’s iconic de­signs in­clud­ing the volup­tuous 1948 chrome Pavoni La Cor­nuta espresso ma­chine evoke the era’s re­newed ex­u­ber­ance and style. Ar­chi­tec­ture and land­mark build­ings such as the Den­ver Art Mu­seum in the US, the Con­cat­te­drale of Taranto in Italy, and the Bi­jenkorf depart­ment store in Eind­hoven, re­mained Ponti’s core pas­sion. As early as 1930, he was ex­plor­ing new, flex­i­ble ways of liv­ing, out­fit­ting his own house with mod­ern fea­tures such as mod­u­lar fur­ni­ture, slid­ing par­ti­tions and an open­plan bed­room. His last home was in the Via Dezza apart­ment build­ing in Mi­lan, where he en­cour­aged all the other own­ers to spec­ify their win­dow de­signs adding va­ri­ety to the streetscape, while in 1960, at the Ho­tel Parco dei Prin­cipi in Sor­rento, Ponti was given com­plete cre­ative con­trol of the de­sign of the build­ing, its dec­o­ra­tion, fur­ni­ture and even the table­ware.

For many of his fans, how­ever, Ponti’s great­est con­tri­bu­tion was his out­look on de­sign and creativ­ity, shared through the leg­endary Do­mus mag­a­zine that he founded in 1928 and edited un­til 1941 and again from 1947 un­til his death. Do­mus— the name is Latin for house or home—be­came Europe’s most in­flu­en­tial ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign pub­li­ca­tion, en­cour­ag­ing both young and es­tab­lished de­sign­ers and artists such as post-mod­ernists Alessan­dro Men­dini and Et­tore Sot­tass to ex­plore new ideas. It is still in print, which just goes to show the strength of Ponti’s legacy.



ABOVE Sketches of the D.151.4 arm­chair by Gio Ponti, pro­duced by Molteni&c

PRE­VI­OUS PAGE A view of the seat­ing area of the ar­chi­tect’s home in the Mon­te­ca­tini build­ing; based on Ponti’s orig­i­nal draw­ings, the re-edi­tion of the D.235.1 Mon­te­ca­tini chair is made en­tirely in pol­ished alu­minium; the D.235.2 chairs re­works the orig­i­nal Mon­te­ca­tini chair, with a seat and seat­back in hide leather

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