Surfaces and Colours : Ceramics Applied to Architecture and Interior Design

By Julie Grislain-Higonnet

Excerpts from the catalogue.

Ceramic tile by the Ceramica D’Agostino factory for Hotel Parco dei Principi in Sorrento
Ceramica D’Agostino
© Gio Ponti Archives, Milan

Ceramics were for Gio Ponti a site of unparalleled experimentation that allowed him to reformulate elements of the Italian cultural tradition and integrate them into a system of industrial production, from the design of tableware, decorative objects and bathroom fixtures to the creation of tiles for floors and walls. He began to familiarise himself with this material beginning in 1923 when he became artistic director of the porcelain manufacturer Richard Ginori. (…)

After the war, Ponti once again drew from this world as he became, from 1946 to 1953, the artistic director of the Imola Ceramics Cooperative. Continuing his exploration into this material, in 1956–57 he created a line of diamond-point coloured tiles for the Milanese firm Ceramica Joo.

Lobby of Hotel Parco dei Principi in Sorrento
© Hôtel Parco dei principi Sorrento

Passing from a flat surface to reliefs, he reinterpreted the diamond-shaped bosses of Renaissance palaces: applied to exterior walls, these tiles, thanks to their glistening texture, capture the changing sunlight and thus animate the facades. This finishing, which made its first appearance on the facade of the church of San Luca Evangelista in Milan (1955–60), was utilised recurrently for his religious and private structures; it was even responsible for the nickname of the Villa Arreaza in Caracas, “La Diamantina.” Even more complex, the facade of the Montedoria building (1964–70) in Milan combines four sorts of emerald-green tiles in various degrees of relief. With coloured tessellation in the shape of shingle, Ponti reinterprets, once again for Ceramica Joo, the traditional shingle mosaic of Liguria, which he used to cover both interior and exterior walls at the Villa Planchart (1953–57), the Villa Nemazee (1957–64), and the Parco dei Principi hotels (1960–64). (…)

Ceramic tile by the Ceramica D’Agostino factory for Hotel Parco dei Principi in Sorrento
Ceramica D’Agostino
© Gio Ponti Archives, Milan

He also renewed the repertoire of the Salerno ceramic producer, Ceramica D’Agostino, designing thirty-three motifs both geometric and vegetal, blues, blacks and whites, which, once assembled, gave rise to over a hundred different decors. Thanks to this solution, Ponti personalised all the rooms of the Sorrento’s Hotel Parco dei Principi (1960). Fifteen years later, he designed a “hymn to colour” to dress the floors of the headquarters of the Austrian newspaper Salzburger Nachrichten in Salzburg. Polychrome geometric designs were employed and adapted to the irregular forms of the rooms. Thus the floor “stole the show” from the architecture and became the true protagonist of the building. A similar solution was adopted in Singapore to cover the facade of the Shui Hing department store in 1977–78.

Below : Ceramic tile by the Ceramica D’Agostino factory for Hotel Parco dei Principi in Sorrento Ceramica D’Agostino © Gio Ponti Archives, Milan