A multifaceted, refined designer, capable of uniting different design souls: but is this really the case?

Considered the inventor of made in Italy , the Master of masters, the one who defined the identity of Italian design. He was the architect who represented a innovative and reactionary bourgeoisie at the same time.

A social class in favor of small innovations, a lover of an educated art, close to the technological innovations of the industry but not very inclined to projects of breaking with the past: those of Ponti are projects of mediation with radicalism of the avant-garde of the time. He works on reassuring works, each innovation is always rebalanced by a reassuring link with the historian.

Ponti feels close to most of the avant-gardes of the twentieth century, from the Viennese secession to the rationalist movement, but those instances will always be filtered by his Italic-traditionalist approach in which the role of craftsmanship is strong .

For Ponti, the designer is first of all an employee of the client. He said in 1964: “ The architect has always been involved in politics. In ancient times he was a man of the court, like painters, writers, musicians. He made a policy that depended on power”. He was a convinced fascist, during the twenty years he was close to the revolutionary part but also to the more traditionalist part of the party: he made his own both the requests of the international functionalist movement and the more traditionalist theme of the recovery of an Italian and Roman identity.

For Ponti the project does not have the primary goal of solving functions but the one of communicating messages. Pontian interiors and architectures are above all representations, places manifesto: they communicate who lives there or the institutions that commissioned them. Ponti claims the primacy of beauty over other design categories. The decoration is therefore legitimate, ostracized instead by the Northern European design culture.

Ponti is a designer fully inserted in the twentieth century, a century made of strong certainties, unshakable ideologies and faith in technical-industrial progress. He was always looking for definitive projects, for archetypes that respected history and could be part of it. Today designers tell of a different, “liquid”, uncertain contemporaneity: they design provisional, elastic, conceptual products.

This is why it is easier to find the Pontian values in the middle generation than in the contemporary one: we therefore find it in the bourgeois rigor of Alberto Meda and Antonio Citterio, in the ability to work on multiple scales (design, craftsmanship, architecture) of Michele De Lucchi, in quality of the design by Patricia Urquiola and Rodolfo Dordoni.

Ponti did not invent made in Italy , he gave his own interpretation, one of several possible ones. He has had many disciples who have acclaimed his incredible qualities of him, but also more than a few critics who have kept silent about his limits. Its strength and weakness at the same time was the continuous search for a conciliatory project, attentive to the approval of the public.

Cover photo: Palazzo Bo, Università di Padova, Sala di Lettura. Ph. Massimo Pistore