Alberto Ponis holds a unique position in contemporary Italian architecture. Born in Genoa in 1933, he studied at the Florence School of architecture. In the early 1960s he worked in London for Ernő Goldfinger, and later for Denys Lasdun. In 1963 Ponis was invited to design his first project in Porto Rafael and began an uninterrupted period of building activity that has resulted in the realisation of more than 300 houses in the north eastern corner of Sardinia.
The majority of the projects built by Ponis are in Sardinia, but it would be inaccurate to characterise him as a ‘local architect’. His is a world-view and his projects are rooted in a wider understanding of architectural culture. What makes Ponis’ work remarkable is his extreme sensitivity to the circumstances of place, to topography, geology and landscape. While his position is ultimately a modernist one, it can also be understood to fulfil the criteria defined by Kenneth Frampton as a Critical Regional one.
In recent years Ponis’ practice has attracted increasing interest, particularly in the German speaking world. His third book, ‘The Inhabited Pathway. The Built Work of Alberto Ponis in Sardinia’, offers an intellectual positioning and a critical framework in which to understand the work. This presents an interesting paradox. Unlike more internationally known Italian architects, Ponis never held an academic position: he was intensely involved in practice and the building of projects, mostly private houses. This book (and the ones that preceded it) is a reflection on a lifetime of building, in counterpoint to the tendency to theorise first and then build. Architectural celebrity was not Ponis’ primary concern, but opportunities allowed him to experiment through building and it was this growing body of work that then prompted reflection.
For the first time drawings from Alberto Ponis’ archive will be on display in an exhibition dedicated to his work, many of which interpret the unique circumstances of a project and the delicate act of placing a house in a landscape. Invariably Ponis’ drawings are produced by hand in pencil and ink, and this charges them with a sense of doubt. They explicitly question the relationships the architect seeks to establish between a built edifice and the rocks, vegetation and existing man-made elements that surround it. In addition to the drawings, photographs by Gion von Albertini, whose extensive documentation of Ponis’ houses has never been exhibited before, will be featured in the show.
When he came back to Italy, he concentrated his work in the rocky coastal landscape of northern Sardinia, where he has lived and worked since 1964. With a career of over 50 years, he built 300 buildings there, many of them summer homes, recognised as a major body of work.
Each house is deeply rooted in its environment and connected with the land by the “sentiero”, the path leading to and from it. His simple and sensitive designs are inconceivable without the Sardinian landscape, merging naturally with nature, overlooking the sea.
The built work of the Italian architect Alberto Ponis is concentrated in the extraordinary rocky coastal landscape of northern Sardinia, where he has lived since 1964. This series of houses, many of them holiday homes, together have today been recognised as a major body of work, their designs combining a thorough knowledge and training in International Modernism, honed by Ponis having worked with Ernö Goldfinger and Denys Lasdun in London, with a response to and deep understanding of the local landscape or cultural condition – key examples of what Kenneth Frampton termed “critical regionalism” .
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