Gio Ponti in Milan: the city that played a fundamental part in the artist’s rich production as an architect and designer. Let’s follow together two itineraries through the city of Milan that will help us rediscover his genius.
An eclectic artist matched by few others from the 20th century art scene, Gio Ponti is, in all respects, the master of Milanese architecture. By exploring the capital of design, we can outline two itineraries that retrace the places in which Ponti’s genius left indelible marks that would forever change the architecture of Milan.
The first ‘Gio Ponti in Milan’ itinerary has to start in via Randaccio n.9, near the Arco della Pace. Here we find the first of four family villas that Ponti designed and resided in. Started in 1924, when Gio Ponti was the artistic director of the Richard Ginori ceramic industry, this pale-green building is filled with neoclassical elements, features that would determine the initial style of the designer. The villa is characterised by a fan-shaped plan and is covered with obelisks. The inside is composed of apartments almost absent of corridors, which creates an organic unity.
Skipping ahead ten years, we curiously venture into Parco Sempione. Here, we chance upon the extraordinary design of the Torre Littoria, that was constructed in the record time of two and a half months for the V Milan Triennale. The tower is made entirely out of tubular steel and is 109 metres high.
During these years, Gio Ponti’s growing success led to his involvement in an extensive number of projects. In the 1930s he was asked to become the director of Luigi Fontana and, together with Pietro Chiesa, he founded the FontanaArte. For Ponti, the foundation of FontanaArte was the beginning of many important design projects, such as the creation of Bilia. Bilia is a frosted glass lamp with a simple geometric shape composed of a sphere and a cone, and displays an extraordinary balance of proportions. Tavolino 1932 was another product of that period: this coffee table is composed of two 15mm-thick, disc-shaped surfaces made in float glass that are supported by a structure made in brushed, nickel-plated brass. Last but not least, we must mention the Suspension Lamp 0024. This elegant lamp made with tempered glass and built on horizontal discs is available in both the suspended and floor variants.
This first route could terminate in corso Magenta, just round the corner from the Santa Maria delle Grazie church. Here, in via San Vittore 42, we find the Palazzo Borletti. This building was once the headquarters of the Borletti brothers’ business, who manufactured watches and sewing machines and were amongst the founding partners of important Italian emporiums such as La Rinascente, Upim and Standa. In 1927, when the Borletti brothers moved their warehouse outside Porta Genova, the architects Gio Ponti and Emilio Lancia were commissioned to design a building fit for the Milanese upper class.
A second itinerary that rediscovers the traces of Gio Ponti in Milan would have to focus, in our opinion, on his work from the 1950s. These were some of the most intense and productive years in Gio Ponti’s professional life. Having moved on from the neoclassical style, the designer turned towards more innovative ideas. The result of this were timeless masterpieces such as the ‘Superleggera’ chair, designed for Cassina in 1955. ‘Superleggera’ exemplifies the perfect balance between solidity and lightness. Other iconic products from those years were: the D.754 carpet for Molteni&C, made with Cavallino leather in four different colours; the D.655 chest of drawers, characterised by the white front panels with integrated handles in various wood types (elm, Italian walnut, mahogany and rosewood); and, finally, the D.555 coffee table, designed for his home in via Dezza.
It’s during this decade that the construction for one of Gio Ponti’s most acclaimed projects begins: the Pirelli skyscraper. This is where our second route through Milan will start. The Pirelli skyscraper was an incredible structural invention for Gio Ponti, a product of his studies on the concept of finished form. Indeed, the Pirelli tower appears to the eye as an organic tapered structure that rises amid emptiness, as if to personify the entrepreneurial spirit of those years.
Let us conclude our excursus on Gio Ponti in Milan by citing the D.270 chairs that were designed in 1970, when Ponti was 80 years old. His design during these years was increasingly focused on the concept of home living. Ponti believed that ‘home’ should be a simple concept, the sum of its external charm and the way we live its interiors. For this reason he wanted the house to be versatile and composed of mobile elements. This led to the creation of the beautiful D.270 chairs, which are incredibly easy to move thanks to the light and foldable design. These characteristics make them ideal for all types of situations, allowing the design of the house to change according to our different needs.
“Perhaps what strikes us most is Ponti’s remarkable ability to live and relive every aspect of every experience that each possible person will have in any situation he constructs. Have him introduce you to a project on which he is working—a model or an object or an idea—and you will find yourself experiencing, through Ponti, the reactions, the pulls, the needs and the pleasures of many different people.”
This is how Charles Eames described Gio Ponti for the “The Expression of Gio Ponti” exhibition. These words perfectly outline the profile of an architect and designer who, more so than others, remained true to his craft and transformed it into an artform. Ponti added to the profession the style and character of a learned man who, artistically, was always ahead of his time.