Gio Ponti was an influential writer, teacher, and practising architect who was one of the most influential figures in twentieth-century Italian design. In a long and illustrious career, he worked in a wide variety of design fields, from interiors to furniture and product design, understanding the value of craft traditions alongside creating a new aesthetic.
He established a design studio in Milan with Emilio Lancia and Mino Foicchi after graduating in architecture from Milan Polytechnic in 1921. He debuted as artistic director of the ceramics manufacturer Richard Ginori in 1923 when he exhibited at the Monza Biennale of Decorative Arts. At the 1925 Paris Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels, the company won the Grand Prix. While many of Ponti’s designs were inspired by classical precedents, the company also released the first catalogue of Modern Art Pottery under his leadership, reflecting his concern for mass production quality.
During this period, he also designed low-cost furniture for La Rinascente and the first of a series of glass designs for Paolo Venini in Murano, which he completed in 1928.
He became the Fontana Arte company’s artistic director in 1930, where he designed a variety of modern lights. He was also instrumental in creating the Monza Biennali and subsequent Milan Triennali, which served as important national and international venues for the exhibition of modern design beginning in the early 1930s.
Ponti and Carlo Pagano’s interior designs for the Breda electric train ETR 200 were shown at the 1933 Triennale; in 1936, he demonstrated “A Demonstrative Dwelling.” Ponti’s work drew significant attention after WWII in Europe and the United States, with W. Singer & Sons in New York supporting his work starting in 1950. He designed a widely admired coffee machine for La Pavoni in 1948 and several sculptural sanitary ware designs for Ideal Standard in 1953, reflecting a broader postwar interest in organic type in design (see Eames, Charles; Saarinen, Eero). Other notable Ponti designs from the 1950s include Cassina’s Leggera (1952) and Superleggera (1957) seats, demonstrating how Ponti combined craft traditions with a modern perspective. Furniture for Arflex and Knoll, flatware for Krupp Italiana and Christofle, lighting for Arredoluce and Artemide, textiles for Fede Cheti, and glass for Venini were among his other designs.
He was also a well-known architect who worked on a wide range of projects, including houses and housing designs, university and office buildings, government buildings, and department stores. The Montecatini Building in Milan, completed in 1938, for which he also designed interiors, fittings, fixtures, and the dominant 1956 Pirelli Tower and in Milan, in collaboration with Arturo Danusso and Pier Luigi Nervi, were perhaps his most important buildings.
Ponti, on the other hand, was influential due to his detailed critical and theoretical writings. The Domus magazine, which he published in 1928, was arguably the most successful of these. With terms of office covering most of his professional career (1928–41, 1948–79), his editorial voice was heard across its pages in several different twentieth-century Italian architecture phases. During his time away from Domus, from 1941 to 1947, he edited Stile, a magazine he founded that represented his ideas and interests and articles proposing reconstruction-era living models. He also contributed to the fashion magazine Bellezza between 1941 and 1943. From 1936 to 1961, he was a professor at Milan Polytechnic. He received numerous prizes, including the Compasso d’Oro Grand Prix in 1956.
Woodham, J. M. (2006). A dictionary of modern design. Oxford University Press.
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