Italy is something of a specialist in hybrid architect/designer/artist/inventors, from Ettore Sotsass and Franco Albini to Patricia Urquiola and Pierro Lissoni. But before them all was Giò Ponti, whose major retrospective at Rome’s Maxxi museum is putting the original 20th-century starchitect back in the public eye 40 years after his death.
The show, Amare l’Architettura (Loving Architecture), focuses on his approach to space and buildings. Through archive material and models, it displays details of his own house in Milan, which was a living manifesto of his vision; early 1930s buildings – from panoramic restaurants to simplified rationalist houses; and his postwar masterpieces that spanned Venezuela, New York, Hong Kong and Islambad.
Dotted throughout are furniture and design objects, such as his 1957 Superleggera chair for Cassina. This “super-light” chair was inspired by traditional chairs produced in Liguria, but Ponti turned it into something modernist and progressive. He also made armchairs for Knoll, cutlery for Sambonet, Murano glass chandeliers and coloured bottles that echoed the female body. Underlining it all was the desire to simplify objects and spaces and create a new way of living. Like the Zaha Hadid-designed Maxxi itself, the exhibition makes a strong statement in Rome, bringing progressive modernism alongside ancient history.