Gio Ponti (1891-1979)
Gio Ponti played many roles in his long career: architect, industrial designer, craftsman, poet, painter, journalist and, above all, advocate for excellence in design. He was undoubtedly one of the most influential Italian architects and designers of the 20th century, whose Pirelli Tower still soars above his native Milan.
As a designer, Gio Ponti worked for 120 companies. As an architect, he built in 13 countries. As a magazine editor, he produced 560 issues and wrote at least one article for each one. As an academic, he lectured in 24 countries. He also found time to dictate some 2,500 letters and draw 2,000 illustrated letters, as well as for painting and poetry. Not only was he extraordinarily prolific, he produced work at every scale, from household objects to large buildings in diverse, often conflicting, styles and ideologies with which he experimented over the years. What is indisputable is that in the best of Ponti, art and industry exuberantly coexist.
Ponti originally trained as an architect. He entered industrial design after soldiering in WWI by developing products for the ceramics manufacturer, Richard-Ginori. During the 1920s and ’30s, Ponti collaborated with its artisans to develop intricate, beautifully crafted ceramics, sumptuously decorated, often in the neoclassical style.
In 1928, Ponti founded the magazine, Domus, as a vehicle for his beliefs, the personal diaries of things which excited and inspired him. He was the chief chronicler of the evolution of modern design in Italy as editor of Domus magazine from 1928 to 1941 and 1948 to 1979, and Stile magazine from 1942 to 1947. Always eager to praise, as well as befriend and collaborate, he championed designers and artists whom he admired, including Carlo Mollino, Piero Fornasetti and Lucio Fontana.
During the late 1920s, Ponti returned to architecture and continued to building houses and larger commissions in styles ranging from the Palladian to Modernist to his own idiosyncratic, exuberant forms of the 1960s.
Throughout, he worked as an industrial designer: In the 1940s he designed numerous pieces of Murano glass, created stage sets and costumes for La Scala in Milan, and developed the voluptuous La Cornuta coffee machine for La Pavoni. He designed the 1953 Distex armchair and the1957 Superleggera (literally “super-light”) chair seen in cafes across Italy. He designed for Cassina, Christofle silverware, Venini crystal and silk fabrics for Vittorio Ferrari.
Ponti remained productive throughout the 1960s and 1970s. He enjoyed encouraging younger designers, including Alessandro Mendini and Ettore Sottsass.