Architect, craftsman, editor, writer, set designer and industrial designer. Founding editor of Domus magazine. Gio Ponti (1891-1979) has long been a design hero of mine, and how wonderfully relevant his designs are even today – all geometric patterns and blue-greys, and all imbued with exuberance and life.
Gio Ponti didn’t simply create buildings. He conceived the building’s interior as well, creating furniture, lighting, appliances, and ceramics, glassware, and silverware. Alice Rawsthorn in the NY Times called him a ‘designer of a thousand talents’ (read the review, here)
Furniture images via
The Design Museum opened a wonderful exhibition of his work in 2002. Two quotes of his really resonated for me, as a mantra to follow and at the same time demonstrating his spirit and passion:
‘The architect must imagine for each window, a person at the sill, for each door a person passing through’.
‘Enchantment, a useless thing, but as indispensable as bread’.
Ponti originally trained as an architect and entered industrial design by developing products for Richard Ginori, an 18th-century ceramics manufacturer in Florence, for whom he later became artistic director. As an architect, Ponti’s designs embodied and embraced every era in which he worked. The classical style of his earliest houses in the 1920s, evident also in his designs for Ginori, were heavily influenced by Andrea Palladio’s 16th-century villas. In the forties he designed costumes and sets for the opera and ballet, as well as gleaming chrome espressomakers for La Pavoni. He also started another magazine, Stile. After the war he helped rejuvenate Italian ship travel with a commission to fit out four ocean liners. In the fifties his collaborations with Piero Fornasetti resulted in a series of surreally beautiful residences in Milan. In addition he built the iconic, modernist skyscraper, the Pirelli Tower (1956) in Milan, the Villa Planchart (1953-57) and the Villa Arreaza (1956) in Caracas, Venezuela, which are among the most exquisite houses of the modernist period. There is a wonderful article written by Ponti himself describing the Villa Planchart and his design process, in an archival issue of Domus (read it, here).
Images of Villa Planchart via Gio Ponti archive and Daily Icon
Ponti used his writing and editorial roles to champion designers and artists whom he admired, including Carlo Mollino, Piero Fornasetti and Lucio Fontana, and in the process contextualised Italian design within contemporary culture. He always encouraged young designers, even when they challenged his own thinking. Among them were Alessandro Mendini and Ettore Sottsass, who were at the forefront of the 1970s post-modernist movement, which emerged as an alternative to modernism.
‘It is neither necessary to be a dogmatic follower of modern design or a dogmatic follower of traditional design to be modern and traditional, nor even to be preoccupied with all of this’.
More design heros, here