The architect Edoarda De Ponti lives in a Milanese home designed by her grandfather, Ignazio Gardella. There have been five previous generations of Gardella architects, and Edoarda, a pragmatic Milanese woman, has worked in the family practice for years, all while maintaining her independence as a designer.
Edoarda, please tell us your story and your link with the family practice.
When I graduated from the Politecnico di Milano, I was following in my family’s footsteps. I initially worked in the Gardella practice, and subsequently in London until the year 2000. When I came back to Milan, I gained experience in the museographic field and then in the family practice where I helped my uncle Jacopo. In the Gardella practice, I dealt with all cultural and editorial aspects, such as publishing texts and organising exhibitions of Ignazio’s work, thereby acquiring a method of designing and working that has been handed down for generations – from the beginning of the 19th century right up until 2021, when Jacopo passed away.
What design method did you learn from the Gardellas?
It’s a method that turns to the past in order to plan for the modern age. Not reproducing styles, but drawing from history and its rationale, so as to enhance certain forms and deliver modern homes with close attention to the details as important parts of the whole. Setting designs from the past alongside new works was always the underlying theme of Ignazio and Jacopo’s practice: antique family furniture placed alongside modern, more functional items. After the war, some of the pieces designed by Ignazio were produced by Azucena, one of the first Italian companies to mass-produce furniture, which he founded with his friends Corrado Corradi dell’Acqua and Luigi Caccia Dominioni. It was a project that he then abandoned in favour of architecture.
Ignazio took an engineering degree – why was that? How much does family tradition count in your profession?
Ignazio was lucky compared to his fellow architects of the same era. He was born into a family of architects in which the profession had been handed down over generations. He had a rich library of books on architecture at his disposal, as well as a magnificent archive. Both his grandfather and his father taught him the history of classical architecture, frequently obliging him to draw real capitals and ornaments. In the end, when he was about to finish his classical secondary school education, he developed a sort of “rejection” of architecture, which was why he enrolled in the engineering faculty. Only after the war did he graduate in architecture from the IUAV in Venice, the school of Giuseppe Samonà, where he was to become a professor. He also owed his talent to this family legacy, the great ease with which he designed, and the speed at which he understood proportions and found solutions. In the profession, Ignazio almost always did what he wanted, in the sense that he tackled modernism with self-assurance, without any dogmatism, and completely free of any conditioning. In fact, after the war, he was one of the first architects to go back to a style of architecture linked to the place in which it was built, expressed through the use of materials typical of local traditions, such as the Arenzano houses which feature slate details and coccio-pesto facades.
And what is the history of this house in Milan, in via Marchiondi, which Ignazio built for the family?
After the war, he and Anna Castelli Ferreri, who had started working in the practice, decided to find a site on which to construct a building that could house their modern apartments. They cycled round Milan and its bomb sites in search of such a place, and found an area between corso di Porta Romana and corso Italia. They purchased the site and built the structure that is known today as the Condominio ai Giardini d’Ercole. They also welcomed Ignazio’s friend Roberto Menghi into the practice.
“It is a house that we are all very fond of.”
Edoarda De Ponti
What is your relationship with this house? What characterises it?
It’s a house that we are all very fond of. It does not immediately strike you for its modernity, as Piero Portaluppi’s Villa Necchi does, for example, or those designed by BBPR or Franco Albini. But living in it and experiencing it, you become aware of the details, the proportions, and the reasons behind the choice of materials. The project’s top priority was its relationship with the garden, so it had to be southfacing, rather than north-facing towards the Duomo – not only through the windows, but also from the balconies that run along the facade. The shutters are in line with the ceilings, which is typical of almost all his residential buildings, and allows you to achieve the greatest luminous surface area.
Were the furnishings designed by Ignazio?
Most of the late-18th-century objects and items of furniture, in the neoclassical style, were handed down from generation to generation and set alongside made-to-measure items, such as the bookcases and the cloth-covered armchairs. It had very few ornaments or paintings – only the ones that he liked and considered really fine. For many years he used books from the collection, like the first edition Palladios, as a base for the television.