Superleggera - The Light Weight Champion

July 5, 2024

Superleggera - The Light Weight Champion

Gio Ponti's Superleggera chair remains an unrivaled icon of minimalist design and engineering, inspiring generations of students who aspire to surpass its feather-light weight of 1.7 kilograms. Despite numerous attempts, this exquisite blend of form and function continues to hold its place as the ultimate achievement in lightweight wooden furniture design.

Every year I meet design and craft students who set out to develop the world's lightest wooden chair, one that weighs less than Gio Ponti's iconic Superleggera's 1.7 kilograms. It is certainly not a modest ambition. The challenge could hardly have been more difficult, and as far as I know, no one has ever succeeded.

The Italian Gio Ponti (1891-1979) is known worldwide for his architecture, furniture, and ceramics designs. He was a versatile artist, working at all scales, from the monumental to the minimal. In Sweden, Ponti is best known for designing the Italian Cultural Institute at Gärdet in Stockholm, built in 1957-1958. 

At the same time, Ponti's most famous piece of furniture- the Superleggera chair – was launched. The theme, the feather-light chair, had engaged Ponti for several years. The inspiration is said to have been a classic cherry-wood chair designed by the master carpenter Guiseppe Gaetano Descalzi (1767-1855), who lived in the small town of Chiavari near Genoa. It all started in 1809, when Descalzi created a simple, practical, and elegant design for a chair, both light and robust. Descalzi exploited traditional knowledge, paid strict attention to quality, and developed new manufacturing techniques. The so-called Chiavari-style chairs became extremely popular and won numerous medals at trade shows. Other manufacturers opened in Chiavari, and some continue to make furniture even today. In the 1950s, the Chiavari chairs became very popular in America after John and Jackie Kennedy used them for their wedding party.

Gio Ponti's intention was to create the modern Chiavari chair that fit the current architectural approach. His experiments resulted in several variants, one of which was called the Leggera (Italian for light). It was launched in 1952, and despite weighing only 2.2 kilograms, less than half the weight of a standard wooden chair, Ponti was still not satisfied. It took him another five years to perfect the final version. By paring down the ash-wood triangular section of the legs to only 18 millimeters, Ponti reached the actual minimum weight of 1.7 kilograms. The chair was consequently named Superleggera and is considered a masterpiece in design and craftsmanship.

It is said that when Gio Ponti wanted to put the Superleggera chair into production, doubts occured about whether it would stand the normal use. To prove the strength of his construction, Ponti climbed three floors and dropped the chair from a balcony. It held, which finally convinced the producer.

The Superleggera chair was launched in 1957 and has been part of the Italian company Cassina's Maestri Collection since 1973, where they relaunch design classics by the world's most famous architects.

Learn more about the chair here.

Article written by Lars Bülow in July 2024

Designer of the month
Hans J. Wegner

Danish furniture designer Hans J. Wegner created over 500 pieces of furniture and was instrumental in the spread of Scandinavian design as an international concept. the Peacock Chair and the Ox Chair are two of Wegner’s most well-known pieces.

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