“Architect” is a word that brings to mind images of buildings, but is something that fails to do justice when referring to Gio Ponti (1891-1979), trained as an architect but a designer in his own right. Over his lengthy career, his work ranged from designing objects to founding a magazine (Domus), from creative direction at Manifattura Ginori to teaching at the very Polytechnic he had attended, all the while producing some of the most iconic buildings in economic boom era Italy.
Milan’s renowned Torre Pirelli is one of his, but so too is the outstanding staging of San Francesco al Fopponino church (1964) in the Porta Vercellina area of the city. Here, Ponti gave free rein to the concept of “universal artwork”, fleshing out the architectural space and its interior, the artistic and decorative elements, the sacred relics and even the vestments, in the name of glorifying the concept of artistic coherence.
This temple was the fruit of the Twenty-two churches for twenty-two councils project overseen by the then Archbishop Montini (later Pope Paul VI), which was to celebrate the commencement of the Second Vatican Council (the twenty-second in the history of the Church) while also providing the rapidly expanding city with new areas of worship. The name comes from one of the cemeteries from beyond the walls of the city, founded in 1576 during the great plague of Saint Charles, known as Fopponino, which in Milanese means simply “little cemetery”.
Dedicated to Saint Francis, the first stone was laid alongside a stone from Mount Subasio donated by the Mayor of Assisi, in a perfect example of the twinning of these two cities. Ponti chose “Franciscan” austerity for the front, which joins the temple to two pre-existing buildings to either side to create an urban landscape with its piazza. External decorative features include 8 elongated diamond-shaped apertures through which the heavens can be viewed. This is a nod to the “a vento” façades of Lombard Romanesque tradition, where the infinite divine was symbolically framed within apertures, while also providing a sense of lightness to the building. The interplay between light and shade is augmented by diamond-rolled tiles that, in turn, reflect the hexagonal shape present in the layout of the church. An example of creativity combining with simplicity to be one step closer to the Divine.
Valentina Monti / Photo itm.srl x Kemon