Published  10/05/2002

Un aventura again?


Milan aircrash damages Ponti masterwork.

The most famous air disaster of the month occurred in Milan where a private pilot flew into the Pirelli Building, the world-famous 32-storey tower designed by the late Italian master architect Gio Ponti. Ironically, 3 May sees the opening of a well-timed exhibition of his work at the Design Museum in London. The Pirelli building, designed by Ponti with his famous compatriot Pier Luigi Nervi, became in 1956 the leading and tallest reinforced concrete building in the world, and remains supremely stylish, a modern masterpiece. In the age of the Lambretta and the Olivetti Lettera 22 portable typewriter (beloved of all students and first novelists of the l960s), Ponti presided over an easy Milanese predominance in the world of design, whereby design was not only modern but expressed its own mood of ‘l’aventura’.

In this elegant world soon peopled by Monica Vitti and Marcello Mastroianni, Roman decadence of the Dolce Vita ambience was quickly put out of touch by the seemingly effortless modernity of Ponti’s world. There was even a house magazine, the now famous Domus, which still upholds the culture of confident contemporaneity. The perfectionist furniture-maker Cassina, the manufacturer of lighting Fontana Arte and even Ideal Standard, the sanitary ware company, saw their sales benefit through Ponti’s patronage. In Denver, Colorado, stands a little-known but well-loved museum of the region, designed by Ponti, a compatible companion to the neighbouring architecture later introduced by Daniel Libeskind. The Design Museum exhibition also includes the Superleggera chair, the Pavoni coffee machine, and Ponti’s own designed scooter, the Piaggio. Fortunately, the impact damage to the Pirelli Tower this month (now housing local institutional headquarters) was slight. Fewer than 20 office occupiers died, and the structure is repairable. The only mystery is how, in an uncluttered skyline, a trained pilot, however disturbed or depressed, could fail to miss the thin, faceted surface of this masterpiece. No architectural motivation, nor any other for that matter, has been evidenced. In L’Aventura there is a scene where an architect knocks an ink bottle over an architectural drawing, by mistake on purpose. April’s drama was an undoubted accident.

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