North Towers of Denver Art Museum, designed by Gio Ponti.”The facade belongs to the passersby,” Ponti wrote. “After all, architecture is made to be looked at.” The decorative shapes on the windows’ exterior embodies Ponti’s design philosophy advocating both function and ornamentation. The windows’ narrowness is due to the fact that artwork the museum houses needs to be protected from natural light’s damaging effects, and the hallways offered one of the few opportunities for windows. Photo by BikeColorado/Flickr Commons.

Like other design masters of the Modernist era, Gio Ponti was quite the Renaissance man, bringing a designer’s eye to projects great and small—from the architecture of an art museum to flatware. His insatiable creativity and intellectual curiosity led him to diverse endeavors from poetry to publishing to being a professor—and designing an automobile.

Gio Ponti flatware
Ponti had an abundant output of flatware designs. Most are no longer in production, you can still find some in museum collections and at art auctions. Photo by Paolo Monti/Wikimedia Commons.

A Prolific Portfolio

Born in 1891 Milan, Ponti experienced firsthand the tumult of the 20th century. He fought in World War I. The devastation World War II wrought on his native Italy presented Ponti with the opportunity to participate in postwar reconstruction.
While he is perhaps most famous for building designs such as the Pirelli Tower in Milan and for contributing to the architectural conversation through his magazine Domus, he was not one to be limited to one facet of design.

He began his professional career after World War I working at a ceramics company. From there, he went on to make contributions as an industrial designer. While emphasizing the artisanal roots of design, he embraced industrial production. Unlike many modernists, he also advocated for ornamentation alongside the modern emphasis on function.

Pirelli Tower Gio Ponti
The Pirelli Tower, distinguished for being Milan’s first skyscraper, measures in at 33 stories and was constructed with 300,000 cubic meters of prestressed, reinforced concrete. Photo by Paolo Monti/CC-by-SA 4.0/Wikimedia Commons.
Pirelli Tower
An oblong diamond shape, the Pirelli Tower’s shape breaks the mold of the standard rectangular skyscraper. “Architecture is a crystal,” Ponti wrote. “When it is pure, it is pure as a crystal.” The Pirelli Tower with its abundant windows and impression of weightlessness does give a crystalline effect. Photo by Paolo Monti/CC-by-SA 4.0/Wikimedia Commons.

Legacy

Ponti’s work helped establish Italy as a design powerhouse and inspired successive generations, including Ettore Sottsass.

“Love architecture, the stage and support of our lives,” Ponti said. He spent his life doing just that, adding his own remarkable contributions.