Rome Travel Guide

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Giò Ponti: Revived in Rome

Ponti in his famous armchair - at home, living "ala Ponti"
Italian design can be art at its best, and found in unlikely places.  RST’s recent foray to the western suburbia of Rome’s via Aurelia brought us to a fascinating and stylish, if small, show of Italian architect Giò Ponti’s interior design.  The setting is the interior design retail shop of Frattali, which is selling modern versions of Ponti’s furnishings.  Frattali’s store – an unlikely modern building in an otherwise undistinguished, even unattractive stretch of via Aurelia (one of the ancient consular roads, one must remind oneself).  
Frattali store on via Aureli

Frattali also currently has on display placards in Italian and English explaining some of the highlights of Ponti’s architectural career – which spanned from the 1920s to the 1970s (he died in 1979).  We recommend a visit before the “show” is scheduled to close on June 9 (info on how to get there at the end of this post). 

armchair - you can buy it too (Montecatini desk
chairs in background)
Titled  “vivere alla Ponti” – or “living alla Ponti”-- the exhibit also is subtitled “Houses inhabited by Giò Ponti.  Experiments in domestic life and architectures for working and living.”  Ponti started including interiors in his buildings early on.  But it was only 2 years ago that remakes of his furniture designs went on the market, with the imprimatur of his heirs:  a stylish, large armchair/poltronia [1953 (that doesn’t look all that useful) from his family home, a metal chair [1935] from one of his most famous buildings, the Montecatini headquarters in Milan, bookcases, dressers, rugs, and coffee tables (see photos here). 
coffee table, rug, cabinet - all ala Ponti
The placards suggest that Ponti was pathbreaking in applying his design skills to the whole building – inside and out.  We note Frank Lloyd Wright was firm in that concept before Ponti.  We also see striking similarities between Ponti’s style and the Los Angeles interiors currently on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Pacific Design exhibit (1930-1965), part of the large, current, all-LA “Pacific Standard Time” 60+ location exhibition) that, interestingly, overlaps almost all of Ponti's era.

The re-make of the desk chair comes from the
 Montecatini office building designed in the late
We expressed some surprise in a chat with one of the store workers about Ponti’s lack of recognition in the U.S.  She pointed out that he was one of the first Italian designers to produce for export.  If so, we say, keep it up!  As regular readers of RST know, we are fans of Ponti, having already done a post on his Fascist-era, rationalist (we would say) 1934 Mathematics Building at La Sapienza (the main university) in Rome.

Ponti was Milanese, and the greatest concentration of his buildings is in Milan.  He designed buildings internationally, from Caracas to Denver (the Denver Art Museum).  There is one more building in Rome, the Grand Hotel Parco dei Principi, nestled at the top of Villa Borghese.  That is on our to-do list.  We have read its interiors have been redesigned in what we would call faux Mediterranean, or as the hotel's website trumpets it, "a facelift inspired by the sumptuous and elaborate style of the patrician villas of Rome’s late-17th-century nobility" - all the rage, as we know from Los Angeles tear-downs as well.  As a result, many of Ponti’s original interior furnishings are on sale on the Web.  No accounting for taste. 
 A lavishly designed catalog for Frattali’s current show begins with a short essay “To re-make or not to re-make, that is the question.”  We’ll let RST readers ponder that one.  We know where we come out.


Directions:  Frattali is at via Aurelia, 678.  If you drive, they have their own parking garage – just get onto the feeder road a few blocks before.  For public transport, note via Aurelia, 678 is a little over one mile (1.4 km) from Piazza Cornelia.  If you get yourself to the piazza (it’s a Metro A stop, or various buses go there), you can walk, or take the 246 bus, that runs about every 15 - 30 minutes (not on Sundays) 4 stops.

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