Gio Ponti’s Jewel Box

We stumbled across Gio Ponti’s (one of my favorite Italian designer) only building in North America when we visited Denver first time last year. It is the North Building of Denver Art Museum, which was built almost 50 years ago.

I like the way that Gio Ponti designs the detail of architecture as making a jewel. He came up with an idea erecting a thin exterior wall with 28 vertical surfaces of varying planes and changing dimension and had it wrapped with more than one million reflective glass tiles (manufactured by Corning Glass Works). The tiles are able to create shifting patterns of light and shadow depending on the time of day. The building itself is a giant “color catcher” (as I mentioned in the blog about the exhibit of “Breathing Color” at the Design Museum in London). I also like that the placement of windows of various sizes and shapes—square, rectangular, and lozenge—are arranged in a random pattern.

The unusual experience that occurred to us in this museum building, however, was to walk up and down in the main interior stairway. I should say it was a delightful surprise. It was joyful and almost became mandatory for us to “wander” up and down in the stairwell for a few more times when we finished seeing the exhibit on each floor.

I’m not sure how Gio Ponti came to decide to cover the stairway with brilliant colored glass tiles (certainly to be consistent with its exterior surface), but somehow the effect of light inside evokes the similar emotional quality that Le Corbusier brought to his Ronchamp. Without overinterpreting the Gio Ponti’s stairway with religious activities, I did sneak a peek at the miniature of life outside the jewel box looking through the translucent window blocks. I would prefer to think that the functionality of the lovely stairway full of light and color works like “Intermezzo,” a sorbet course between the entree and the main course. While sorbet is used for cleansing our palate, the playful intermediate space between floors might be great for cleansing our mind and body before assimilating the next batch of information. ^^


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