Giovanni Ponti, better known as Gio Ponti, was born in Milan on 18 November 1891, and, after a classical schooling, he enrolled in at the Faculty of Architecture, Milan Polytechnic, but did not graduate until the end of World War One, a war in which, despite his early poor health, he served on the front line, and from which he took away several decorations, numerous watercolours of his companions in arms, and memories of the architecture of Palladio he had seen as a soldier. After the war he was close to the group of "Milanese neo-classicists".
After graduating from Politecnico di Milano, he married Giulia Vimercati. They had four children: Lisa, Giovanna, Giulio e Letizia, and eight grandchildren.
He worked with the Richard-Ginori ceramics factory (until1938), a collaboration that gave rise to a renewed kind of production. He presented porcelain and majolica works of classical inspiration at the 1st lntemational Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Monza, in 1923. Here, Ponti met the critic Ugo Ojetti, who became a point of reference for Ponti's professional development thereafter.
The house in Via Randaccio, the first house designed by Ponti, and where he also lived.
He opened his first practice with architect Emilio Lancia (1927-1933). His "classical formation", as he described it, and his passion for pictorial art (he would have liked to be a painter) were the origin of the early Ponti idiom. Central to his style was a new approach to the theme of the home. These were the years of the Villa Bouilhet at Garches, Paris, in which he fused together architecture, interior design and decoration.
He founded, with Gianni Mazzocchi, the magazine Domus. "Domus" was a unique mouthpiece through which to formulate and popularise new design and architecture ideas. The concept of "ltalian-ness", together with a drawing close to rationalist theories, led him in the late 1920s to conceive his first ''typical houses" emblematically called "Domus". Gio Ponti was an admirer of the critic Edoardo Persico.
Memorable episodes from this phase were Ponti's involvement in the Triennale exhibitions of 1930, 1933 ("his" Triennale), 1936, 1940 and 1951 He began working with the "Luigi Fontana factory" (the year after "Fontana Arte" which will assume the artistic direction).
After his professional association with Emilio Lancia came to an end with the completion of the Rasini tower-house in Milan's Corso Venezia, his friendship with the painter Massimo Campigli began to take on increasing importance.
Begins his association with Antonio Fomaroli and Eugenio Soncini (1933-1945). This partnership led to a number of important designs and constructions: school buildings (the School of Mathematics on the Rome University Campus, and the Faculty of Letters and Dean's Offices at Padua University), office blocks (the Montecatini Building) and residential buildings (the Marmont House in V.le Gustavo Modena, Milan, and Villa Donegani in Bordighera). These years also saw a huge output in furnishings, an area in which he blended functional efficiency with formal elegance.
Starts his teaching work on courses in interior design, furnishing and decoration at Milan Polytechnic (from 1936 to 1961).
Ponti met Bernard Rudofsky. Another design phase began, characterised by references to an ideal of Mediterranean architecture and by the promotion of a convergence between art and industry.
Having temporarily left "Domus", Ponti created the magazine"Stile". His role as editor until 1947 gave him another opportunity to spread artistic and architectural culture, part of his attempt to create a new "culture of home living''. In these years Ponti gradually moved away from official publicy-commissioned projects and demonstrated a new interest in the decorative arts (collaborating for instance with Venini and De Poli), as well as in painting and in stage design. The early post-war years found him on the one hand intensively involved (in both theory and practice) in the question of reconstruction, and on the other in the renewal of his own formal idiom: volume gave way to surface. A constant preoccupation of this period was the search for luminosity and spatial fluidity.
In 1952 the Ponti, Fornaroli, Rosselli practice came into being.
In 1954 Ponti invented the Compasso d'Oro award and in the same year was involved in the setting up for his partner and son in-law Alberto Rosselli of the magazine "Stile Industria". Ponti's theory of "finite form" became pivotal to all his work, from the smallest product design project to the grandest work of architecture, a theory codified in his beloved "diamond shape". His work in fumishings reached a peak with his so-called "organised walls" and composite furnishings. These inventions found exemplary applications in his remarkable villas of the early 1950s: Villa Planchart and Villa Arreaza in Caracas; Villa Nemazee in Teheran. In 1956 he built his universally acknowledged masterpiece: the Pirelli skyscraper.
In 1957 Ponti published “In Praise of Architecture”, an essay in diary form. designed the house in Via Dezza, adjacent to the studio, where he would live from then on, in an apartment expression of his "culture of living", his passions and his themes.
His religious buildings, the Milan churches of San Francesco, 1964, and of San Carlo Borromeo, 1966 were evidence of a trend towards dematerialisation, and looked forward to some of his works in the decade to come. In the 1960s Ponti turned his attention away from Latin America to the East he built ministerial buildings in lslamabad in Pakistan and a villa for Daniel Koo in Hong Kong, and designed a number of important department store fronts in Singapore, Hong Kong and Eindhoven in Holland.
As he approached eighty Gio Ponti was still producing memorable works, most memorably the Cathedral of Taranto (1970) and the Denver Art Museum: his architecture now took the form of the thin perforated sheet. He also painted on perspex, folded wafer-thin sheet metal and designed fabrics, floors and fronts. Colour predominated.
He died in the house in Via Dezza, Milan, September 16, 1979.
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