Superleggera, 699, Gio Ponti, Figli di Amedeo Cassina
Who would have believed that Gio Ponti, a man who won the Italian military cross in the Second World War and was never ill a day in his life, could have been thought so delicate that his parents felt it necessary to send him to a girls’ school. It turns out that the passionate workaholic architect, writer and designer who founded Domus magazine had more fight in him than the mighty blue marlin.
But it was his mix of super strength and delicacy that really came to the fore when Cesare Cassina asked his friend to design a lightweight chair he could put into production. Ponti was fascinated at the time by the
Chiavari, a much loved antique chair that had become part of the vernacular of Italian furniture. Named after the Ligurian fishing village that still produces them, the Chiavari was designed by a cabinetmaking campanino, or bell ringer, called Giuseppe Gaetano Descalzi, who came up with his chair after he was commissioned to rework some French Empire style chairs for the local marquis in 1807.
Ponti wanted to strip Descalzi’s Chiavari down to its bare essentials and make it his own, and he did it again and again until he got it right. He did not stop at designing a light, compact, inexpensive “chair-chair devoid of adjectives”; he also reduced his chair, like a star chef in search of the perfect stock, to 1.7 kilograms (33/4 pounds) of perfection, continually slimming and strengthening, reinforcing and reducing.
Using super lightweight ash wood, Ponti employed a clever system of slotting individual struts firmly inside one another at different heights to give extra strength. He tipped the back of the seat for both comfort and durability and tapered the legs, making the top of them triangular, although they looked round from the front. By doing this he sliced more weight off the chair, without losing its durability, and added to the design when looking down at
the seat. Finely balanced and so minimal, in keeping with the architect’s own zen aesthetic, the result is a super-stable chair, designed to be lifted up with just one finger.
The Superleggera, the third of a Leggera series Ponti started designing in 1949, was so resilient it is said to have bounced without breaking when Ponti dropped it out of the second floor of Cassina’s office for a publicity stunt.
The Superleggera can still be found at Cassina.com