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 various 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.
He became the Fontana Arte company’s artistic director in 1930, where he designed various modern lights. He was also instrumental in creating the Monza Biennali and subsequent Milan Triennale, which served as important national and international venues for the exhibition of modern design beginning in the early 1930s.
Iconic Round Chair
Ponti’s 1950s creation—a beloved seat that blends form and function. It comprised just eight parts: a soap bar–shaped seat and back, two plywood uprights, and four metal legs. In 1957 the design, which Ponti also deployed in a contemporaneous Caracas residence, Villa Arreaza, was officially unveiled at the Milan Triennale, where it was dressed in Vipla, an economical faux leather. When production stopped in the mid-1960s, prices for originals skyrocketed—an example clad in ivory vinyl fetched more than $80,000 at Phillips in 2020.
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 various 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.
Denver Art Museum Tower
Museums have taken their architectural cues from Renaissance palaces for centuries, but the Denver Art Museum eschews the palace for a castle inspired by medieval stone fortifications. The Ponti-Sudler-Bach tower is the only building by Italian architect Gio Ponti in North America, and its general demeanour is defensive. Still, its skin of textured grey tiles (Ponti’s contribution) comes alive depending on the sun’s angle. The Martin Building, as the museum’s tower is formally known, probably would be more of an icon were it not impossible to photograph (Gio Ponti’s Only U.S. Building Is Delightfully Weird — and Freshly Revamped 2022).
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. 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.
Gio Ponti’s only U.S. building is delightfully weird — and freshly revamped. (2022, July 28). Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-07-28/denver-art-museum-is-gio-pontis-only-u-s-building-its-delightfully-weird-and-freshly-revamped
Nast, C., & A. (2021, May 19). Rediscover Gio Ponti’s Iconic Round Chair. Architectural Digest. https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/rediscover-gio-pontis-iconic-round-chair
Woodham, J. M. (2006). A dictionary of modern design. Oxford University Press.
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Gio Ponti founded Domus in 1928, this journal devoted to architecture and design, originally named “L’ Arte della Casa,” has been at the forefront of design debate in Italy. In the 1930s, it was mainly concerned with a Novecento aesthetic, but it also paid attention to more radical tendencies, as Persico’s 1934 article “A New Start for Architecture” exemplifies.
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