Italian designer, architect, artist, and publisher
Giovanni “Gio” Ponti (born November 18, 1891, Milan, Italy–died September 16, 1979, Milan, Italy) was one of the most influential Italian architects, industrial designers, furniture designers, artists, and publishers of the 20th century. He is associated with the development of modern architecture and modern industrial design in Italy and is known for having been a major part of the Novecento movement.
Ponti graduated in 1921 from the Politecnico di Milano. In 1923 he started his first industrial design work for the Richard-Ginori pottery factory, close to Florence. During his 15-year relationship with the pottery factory, but especially during the early years, Gio Ponti collaborated with craftsmen and artisans creating rich designs, with abundant colors, elaborate shapes and skilled craftsmanship, mostly in the neoclassical style. A style and approach that were highly at odds with the functional and minimal approach of the then prevalent Italian rationalism, but that was broadly present in his 1930s-1940s work, becoming less so over later years. read more
In 1928, he started Domus, an architecture and design magazine with the mission to energize Italian architecture, interior design, and decorative arts. His leadership at Domus would allow him to express his ideas regarding the Novecento artistic movement, a counter-movement to Rationalismo, and also to showcase the best of Italian design. He left Domus in 1941 to start Stile magazine but returned to Domus in 1947 for the rest of life.
In 1923, Ponti made his public debut at the first Biennial Exhibition of the Decorative Arts in Monza, which was followed by his involvement in organizing the subsequent Triennale Exhibitions of Monza and Milan. In 1933, he invited Pietro Chiesa to join him and Luigi Fontana—owner one of the largest glass manufacturers in Italy—to create Fontana Arte, a company that specialized in manufacturing furniture, lighting, glass windows, and furnishing accessories. In 1934, he was given the title of Commander of the Royal Order of Vasa in Stockholm. He also obtained the Accademia d’Italia Art Prize for his artistic merits, the gold medal from the Paris Académie d’Architecture, and an honorary doctorate from the London Royal College of Art.
In the 1940s, he collaborated with Paolo de Poli in the production of furniture, decorative panels, and new objects of design and animal motifs in sculptural forms, and in 1946, he started three years of involvement designing Murano glassware for Venini.
As with other important Italian designers, such as Nino Zoncada, Gustavo Pulitzer-Finale, Paolo de Poli, Pietro Chiesa, and Gino Sarfati, Gio Ponti was involved in many interior and furniture design projects for ocean liners. During the early 1950s, Ponti also became attracted to Piero Fornasetti’s painted silk scarves, and they started a productive partnership of Ponti-designed furniture decorated with Fornasetti paintings, and also formed a close friendship with Italian architect and designer Ico Parisi.
As an architect, Gio Ponti renovated the idea of Italy as a creative design and architectural force, and was an essential agent in establishing Italy as a global design center in the mid-20th century. In 1956, he designed and built the Pirelli skyscraper in Milan in collaboration with Fonaoli, Roselli, and Nervi. Two of his most renowned architectural works, though, were built outside of Italy; Villa Planchart (1955) in Caracas, and Villa Nemazee in Tehran, stand out as Ponti’s architectural gems.
Beginning in the late 1940s and 1950s, he designed many interior design pieces, of which his chairs became extremely popular for their joyuful sprit, and streamlined modern sensuality; characteristics that are persistent throughout most of his creative work. In 1957, he designed the successfully omnipresent Superleggera chair for Cassina, the crowning achievement of a long and fruitful working association designing furniture and creating design objects. Gio Ponti’s other works with Italian furniture manufacturers include the Continuum rattan chair for Pierantonio Bonacina in 1963, a group of wooden arm chairs he designed in 1964 for Knoll, the Dezza armchair for Poltrona Frau in 1966, and many furniture pieces he designed in the late 1960s for Tecno, Osvaldo Borsani’s furniture manufacturing company. In 1966, he invited lighting designer Elio Martinelli to showcase his lamps at the inaugural Eurodomus exhibition, which catapulted Elio’s career as an innovative light designer.
By the 1970s, at the end of his career, Gio Ponti had intensified his quest for transparency and lightness. It was during this time that he designed and built facades resembling undulated and perforated sheets of paper with geometric shapes and unique patterns. In 1970, he finished the Taranto Cathedral, a white rectangular building topped with a huge concrete facade perforated with openings. In 1971, he contributed to the exterior envelop design of the Denver Art Museum in Colorado and submitted the project for the future Centre Georges-Pompidou in Paris.
Gio Ponti died in 1979 on Via Nezza in Milan. His design objects and furniture remain in high demand today by collectors, and many of them are considered iconoclastic examples of mid-century Italian design.
Last updated: February 22, 2019