The latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century were especially fertile for architects experimenting with the new materials and methods produced by the industrial revolution. These novel techniques induced a design agenda, which rejected historical models. The resulting modernism and its advocates proposed the abstraction of textures, decorative elements and craftsmanship. Industry was to replace the craftsman of the pre-industrial society. Adolf Loos’ manifesto «Ornament and Crime» is emblematic of this rejection of historical representation and decorative content.
The elimination of historical content in Adolf Loos’ manifesto is noteworthy for assessing Gio Ponti’s status in modern architecture. The diversity of Ponti’s work testifies to an inclusive form of modernism that goes beyond simply rejecting history and its representation in design. His work, often associated with modernism, is not devoid of ornament and craftsmanship. Color, materials, texture, appliqués and compositional formalism are all part of the multi-layered nature of Ponti’s work.
Ornament and applied decorative elements, rejected by Loos and the European modern avant-garde as archaic, are an important legacy of Ponti’s theories and should be recognized by a discipline that has often overlooked this form of modernism. He rejected this culture of exclusion and promoted a more open-minded view of design culture based on the inclusion of the historical and cultural attributes of materiality and craft.
Two Milanese collectives at work in Italy perhaps inspired Ponti’s form of composite modernism at the beginning of the 20th century. Gruppo 7 was a group of Italian rationalists who proposed an industrial aesthetic supportive of modernism and the Novecento Italiano who rejected the European modern movement, suggested a return to Italian classicism for inspiration. These philosophical views seem to have been combined by Ponti to inform the layered textile-like composition of his work. The layered surfaces reveal a complexity that can be associated with Roman glazed brick surfaces. The constructive artefact displays its virtue of thickness along with its decorative value. This composition of wall versus surface, an interaction so much a part of Villa Planchart (1955, Caracas) also exposes Ponti’s denial of the modern value of material truth.
The graphic adornment in Ponti’s work can also be linked to his time as director of The Richard Ginordi Ceramics Company from 1932 – 1930. Considering this position at the beginning of his career provides insight into Ponti’s outlook on design. Craft and surface, integral parts of ceramic production, are central in Ponti’s work. Along with the values of craft and ornament, he also developed an intimate knowledge of the difficulties in designing quality mass- produced objects. He treasured mass production as much as designing unique objects. He believed craft and industry were to be linked for a quality product to emerge.
Born in 1891 and raised in Milan, Gio Ponti studied and eventually taught at the Milan Polytechnic. Interrupted by World War 1, he completed his studies in 1918 at the age of 27. His travels as an Italian soldier allowed him to visit some of Palladio’s residential works potentially commanding his use of classical compositional tactics such as axis, symmetry, rhythm, which are all apparent in Ponti’s work. Along with this classical content, his designs embrace the modern values of surface and light, flexibility and openness, and the abstract use of pure forms. It is this complexity that embodies the «Ponti style» associated with the modern Italian period. The Pavoni coffee machine and the Villa Planchart both iconic images of his work demonstrate Ponti’s whimsical nature and his capacity to bridge traditional and modern values.
Ponti promoted an inclusive form of modernism and founded, on this basis, Domus magazine in 1928 along with Gianni Mazzochi, an artist involved with the Novecento group. Conceivably the most influencial Italian design publication, the magazine informed the masses about good design by revealing its capacity to emote on the same level as literature or theatre. The magazine is synonymous with modern domesticity and aesthetic in the field of Architecture even today.
Love architecture, both old and modern. Love it for its fantastic, adventurous, and solemn creations; for its inventions; for the abstract, allusive and figurative forms that enchant our spirit and enrapture our thought. Love architecture, the stage and the support of our life.
Gio Ponti, In praise of Architecture.
Along with being a very proficient architect and designer Ponti authored a series of treatises on Architecture, Amate l’Architettura or Love Architecture. Published in English as «In praise of Architecture», Ponti wrote generously about architecture, architects, materials, ornament, program, theory and exposed the true nature of his intentions. Ponti was a generous teacher. His great legacy of works, as important as they may be, can be considered marginal within the scope of his commitment to divulge architecture of inclusion that sees the beauty in simultaneous presence of tradition and modernity.
It is no doubt not a coincidence that a country that brought us Vitruvius and Alberti also gave us Ponti. All three embody the tradition of the architect as a thinker as well as a builder. In an era where taking sides was of the utmost importance, Ponti was able to develop an original and playful quality that bridged philosophies and crossed six decades and multiple disciplines.
Earlier this year Molteni & C, under the direction of Francesca Molteni released a limited, re-edition of some of Ponti’s coveted creations – showcasing the broad scope of Ponti’s work. The colourful motifs, striped surfaces, the weaved patterns or the fluid nature of his furniture all demonstrate his search for elegance and his obsession for detail and craftsmanship. He was in this respect a true Roman Architect, concerned with beauty, function and durability.
HOME Magazine discussed Ponti and Molteni & C’s new collection with Francesca Molteni in Milan.
Why Ponti – What inspired you to develop this collection?
We didn’t plan the re-edition of Gio Ponti, it just happened. We had the chance to visit his nephew’s studio and we noticed a wonderful bookcase, very elegant and modern. His nephew, Paolo Rosselli, told us it was designed by Gio Ponti for his house in Via Dezza in Milan.
We decided to look into his archive to find out other pieces, never produced before industrially. We discovered a real treasure: sketches, drawings, pictures and notes from the architect. We made an agreement with the Ponti family to reproduce some pieces, an entire Ponti collection.
It’s been said, making a sequel as good as the original is very difficult to do. However; Molteni & C’s revival has truly captured the essence of Ponti. How did you accomplish this?
It was not easy to redone today something made in the past. We decided to rethink the pieces in total respect of the Ponti soul but with a modern technique, something Ponti would appreciate. That was the challenge.
Ponti wrote many notes and made many sketches about his job. He was also the founder and director of Domus. So we could find out many articles in the magazine about the furniture. But we’re also having a wonderful relationship with the Ponti heirs. Two daughters, Lisa and Letizia, one son, Giulio, and many grandchildren. One of them, Salvatore Licitra, is the curator of the Gio Ponti Archives. They helped us a lot to make a collection as good as the original. But, of course, our technicians were very inspired to find out brilliant solutions for the collection of such a great master of Italian design.
You are a very multifaceted and creative individual. One of your passions is film making and directing. Do you find your artistic ability to tell and produce a story on film assisted you in conceptualizing and producing a furniture collection – such as the new Ponti collection?
Yes, I did many researches in the Ponti Archive, as I usually do in order to tell a story or to direct a documentary. The process was the same: finding out some interesting details, interviewing people, discovering the context in which the furniture were conceived, and then writing a new story with all these elements. I also convinced Molteni&C to produce five short films about Gio Ponti, his life and work, and to organize an exhibition, “Vivere alla Ponti”, with all the material we collected during the researches. Now the exhibition is travelling around the world with the collection!
How long did it take to produce the final Ponti collection?
It was a long process and it’s not ended. At least 3 years since the beginning, it started in 2010.
As you are aware Ponti’s furniture is coveted by the top furniture collectors around the world. How did Molteni & C decide what pieces would be in the final Ponti collection?
We made some researches in the Ponti Archive, finding out the pieces that could be reproduced today, free of rights, and selecting almost 30 products. Then we chose the ones that could be part of a real collection, with the help and the artistic direction of Studio Cerri&Associati. Finally we made a special agreement with the Ponti heirs in order to have the exclusive rights to reproduce the pieces.
Will we see more revivals from Molteni & C in the future? If so – which other masters of design inspire you?
Molteni&C worked with well-known architects and designers since a long time. Aldo Rossi, Luca Meda, Afra & Tobia Scarpa, in the past, and Jean Nouvel, Studio Foster, Patricia Urquiola, Ron Gilad today. In the future we could think about some fantastic re-editions of their products from the ’70 and ’80.
What’s next for Francesca Molteni?
Many projects! I’m editing a documentary about Ron Gilad and his exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. It will be presented at the London Design Festival in September. I’m working on an interesting project to promote the Italian creativity in Brazil, and on a huge project for the next Salone del Mobile in 2014. With Molteni&C we’re planning some new revivals. There’s so much to do! We’ll see…
 «The evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornament from utilitarian objects». Ornament and Crime, Conrad U. Programs and Manifestoes on 20th Century architecture MIT Press, 2002, Cambridge
 Gruppo 7: formed in 1926 by Luigi Figini, Guido Frette, Sebastiano Larco, Gino Pollini, Carlo Enrico
Rava, Giuseppe Terragni and Adalberto Libera, see Framton K., Modern Architecture a critical history, Thames and Hudson, 1980, London
 Founded in Milan in 1922 by Anselmo Bucci , Leonardo Dudreville, Achille Funi, Gian Emilio Malerba, , Piero Marussig, Ubaldo Oppi and Mario Sironi see Framton K., Modern Architecture a critical history, Thames and Hudson, 1980, London
 Material truth: the modern axiom «truth in materials» refers to a material being used for its constructive quality. The material does not «pretend» to be another. Each material should express its own nature and not be covered or hidden.
 Marcus Vitruvius Pollio was a Roman military architect and he authored De Architectura libri decem «the ten books on architecture» in the first century B.C.
 Leon Battista Alberti, a 15th century architect and author who reedited Vitruvius’ ten books as De re aedificatoria
« the art of building» see Kruft H.W., A History of Architectural Theory from Vitruvius to the present, Princeton Architectural Press, 1994, New York
 Vitruvius’ three pillars of architecture, beauty, functinality, durability (venustas, utilitas, firmitas) interpreted in Kruft H.W., A History of Architectural Theory from Vitruvius to the present, Princeton Architectural Press, 1994, New York
Photography ©Ponti Archives