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Gio Ponti (Italian, 1891–1979)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

Italian architect, painter, writer, designer and publisher. After serving in World War I, he graduated (1921) from the polytechnic in Milan, where he later held a professorship (1936–61). Working first (1923–7) with architects Mino Fiocchi and Emilio Lancia, and later (1927–33) in partnership with Lancia only, in his early years of practice he was attracted to the simplified classicism of the Novecento Italiano. As designer (1923–7) to the ceramic manufacturer Richard-Ginori he produced a porcelain that was exhibited at the first Monza Biennale (1923) and at the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (1925) in Paris, where the chairman of Cristoffle, Tony Bouilhet, commissioned him to make a new range of cutlery; he also asked him to design his villa (completed 1926) at Garches, Paris. This villa, together with the slightly earlier house (1925) on Via Randaccio in Milan, showed Ponti to be a sensitive neo-classicist who was at the same time already leaning towards an individual brand of Modernism, which in less than a decade was to characterize much of his work. With other architects of the Novecento group, he participated in the urban development competition of 1926 for Milan. With Giovanni Muzio and others he collaborated on the neo-classical Monument to the Fallen (1929) and the design of new buildings to house the Milan Triennale when it moved from Monza (where it had been a biennial event) in 1933. He was a member of the Executive Board of the Triennale from 1933. Meanwhile, in 1928 Ponti had founded the review Domus, and it was through its pages (and those of Lo Stile, which he went on to found and edit between 1941 and 1947) that he was to influence taste, particularly in interior design and furnishing, for over 50 years. For Ponti, domus, the house, meant the sun-lit, Mediterranean kind, where Latin tradition and modern style would come together and be made more widely available through industrial production, as were other objects (cutlery, furniture, lamps) that he designed. The name ‘Domus’ was applied to houses in Milan, for example the Domus Julia–Domus Fausta complex (1930) on Via Letizia and Domus Alba (1935) on Via Goldoni.

After 1933, having broken off his association with Lancia to team up with two engineers, Antonio Formanoli and Eugenio Soncini, Ponti’s range of architectural concerns broadened. The group’s first major building was the Montecatini company headquarters (1936), Milan, designed in an uncompromisingly Modernist idiom, clearly confirmed the same year in buildings for the International Exhibition of the Catholic Press in Vatican City. Ponti’s Faculty of Mathematics building on the university campus in Rome (under the direction of Piacentini) was completed in 1935, and in effect brought his Novocentist period to an end. A number of important commissions followed the Montecatini building: the multi-functional block of Piazza di S Babila (1938–42), offices (1939) for Ferrania and (1940) for Fiat, and buildings for the University of Padua (1937–40), where Ponti himself painted the staircase frescoes. He also became architect for several large firms, producing new ranges of products, for example a new line of furnishings for the Rinascente department stores under the trademark Domus Nova.

After 1945 Ponti resumed his association with the industries of Milan. He designed the first espresso machine, the Pavoni (1949); interiors for two of Italy’s transatlantic liners (the Giulio Cesare and the Andrea Doria, 1951); and also in 1951 completed a second major office building in Milan for the Montecatini company. In 1952 he went into partnership with Alberto Rosselli, and a steady flow of commissions culminated in the Pirelli Tower (1956–8), designed with Pier Luigi Nervi and others. The 32-storey work was one of the first high buildings to be constructed on a non-rectangular plan, and its acutely angled sides have been compared variously with a ship’s prow and a finely cut crystal. Ponti had already worked elsewhere in Europe and built the Villa Planchart (1954) in Caracas, Venezuela. Many international commissions followed in the 1960s—in Baghdad, Tehran, Islamabad and Hong Kong. In 1972 he designed the Denver Art Museum (with Joal Cronenwett and James Sudler). In Milan, the church of S Francesco (1963) and the church at Ospedale S Carlo (1967) were the preparation for Taranto Cathedral (1971), known as the Concattedrale from the great concave vault that stands above it. Although Ponti was almost certainly Italy’s best-known architect in the post-war period, significant critical appreciation of Ponti’s work came mainly from Japan and the USA, rather than from Italy.

Guido Zucconi
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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