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Gio Ponti – let’s do something beautiful with it

Mandana Bender

A newly published book on Italian architect Gio Ponti and his work is the most comprehensive overview of his oeuvre to date.




A new illustrated book on the work of multi-talented Gio Ponti has been published recently. It covers the Italian architect’s and designer’s complete oeuvre. Ponti’s core philosophy of modernism saw architecture as a representational object and a “self-luminous” stage for his humanistic art of living and boundless creativity. It is indeed no exaggeration to state that Ponti, who was born in 1891, shaped the appearance of modern Italy.

For almost sixty years Gio Ponti, whose real name was Giovanni Ponti, designed the world with the greatest energy: Elegant skyscrapers, vases, tiles, armchairs, tables, chairs, villas, cutlery, ship interiors, wall mosaics, sculptures, drawings … One could continue this even further and yet not capture the oeuvre of Gio Ponti in its entirety: In his designs one can find all the styles of the 20th century, in some cases he even anticipated trends. He was a poet, designer, industrial architect, architect and interior designer all at the same time. Thus, his concept of art is to be understood very broadly since he always went beyond the respective categories and so created a complex creative universe with his designs, in which upon closer inspection one also recognizes a clear, unified vision.

Gio Ponti and his world of interiors, art objects, furniture, lighting fixtures, building plans, …

The German TASCHEN Verlag has now taken this as an opportunity to document the exceptional architect and his work in a massive book and the most comprehensive overview of his oeuvre to date. The book was produced in collaboration with the Gio Ponti Archive in Milan. As readers turn the pages, they are immersed in a world of interiors, art objects, furniture, lighting fixtures, building plans, hotel entrances, cruise ships, and much more. Even the book cover itself is a reference to a well-known floor covering by Ponti from one of his most famous designs, the Pirelli skyscraper in Milan.

Italy at Ponti’s time: progressive, self-confident and future-oriented

The richly illustrated XXL book with about 136 projects shows Italy at Ponti’s time: progressive, self-confident and future-oriented. Like no other, Ponti, who was born in 1891, shaped the appearance of modern Italy. Berlin art director Karl Kolbitz has brought the works together in a detailed collection with illustrations of buildings, projects and plans, so that the book allows the viewer to float with ease through perhaps the most exciting times for design in the 20th century: Enthusiasm for technology and creativity come together with art and design history. It is also particularly noteworthy that each object appears in the original context in which Ponti originally created it. In this way previously unpublished materials and unposed photographs allow new dialogues between well-known masterpieces and the less famous, but no less lesser-known works, revealing new insights into his elusive life.

Gio Ponti and his core philosophy of modernism

But who was Gio Ponti anyway, or rather, who or what was he not? In the booklet of the illustrated book one can find some answers to this question: In the essay by Gio Ponti’s grandson Salvatore Licitra, founder of the Gio Ponti Archive and curator of the exhibitions “Gio Ponti Archi-Designer” (Museè des Arts Decoratifs in Paris 2018) and “Gio Ponti” Loving Architecture” (MAXXI Rome 2019), as well while reading the interview with his daughter Lisa Licitra Ponti, who died in 2019 and through a detailed biographical text, written by Stefano Casciani, longtime editor-in-chief of DOMUS Magazine, readers will get a good insight into Gio Ponti’s work and person. He was a contemporary of the Bauhäusler, but unlike Walter Gropius for example, he was not a purist; the austerity of the latter’s architectural language was too boring and somewhat narrow-minded for him to see in it a new design. For him, both were important throughout his whole life: clear structure and decorative elements. He disliked the idea that only one of these should apply. His core philosophy of modernism therefore also saw architecture as a representational object and a “self-luminous” stage for his humanistic art of living and boundless creativity.

Ponti loved colors such as blue, tan, and yellow, and he had a weakness for complex and iridescent surfaces as well as for the play of light and shadow on a façade. He always worked according to the principle of just not letting boredom arise in the designs.

He simply followed his “flow”

Gio Ponti is generally seen as a trailblazer of modernism, but this is not entirely accurate and only represents an attempt to put his extensive body of work into one big bracket. It seems better though to assume that Ponti did not want to create any (own) styles or models at all, but simply followed his “flow”, as one would say today. This is particularly evident in his best-known building, the Pirelli skyscraper in Milan with its streamlined basic form, the almost floating roof and the construction almost without supporting pillars. This design brought Ponti worldwide fame, and he afterwards was commissioned to design everything from museums and churches to department stores.

For Ponti, the future of architecture was closely linked to communication: He founded DOMUS, a magazine that is still renowned today, and curated STILE – all of which were opportunities for him to share his interests with a large audience.

The book “Gio Ponti” is released as an Art Edition in addition to the limited XXL edition that is also limited to 1000 copies. The book, published by TASCHEN, is available here.

Interested in more Italian landscape architecture? Find out here more about the project “Stada aperte” in Milan.

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