Achille Castiglioni

When two creative brothers like the Castiglioni put their minds together, they create minimum design, an industrial style that defied all the traditional rules. The creations of Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni are stripped down to the bare minimum, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t pay attention to the details. Just the opposite. The two Italian designers curate every element of the products, from the lamp’s bulbs to the chairs’ bolts.

The focus of their creations wasn’t functionality. Instead, the two brothers focused on representation, on allowing the audience to experience the designs and to make its own evaluation. So, don’t tell someone what to think or feel, rather let them make their own ideas. Perhaps a revolutionary concept, in the decades of mass production and of utopic ads on TV. But Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni weren’t afraid of challenges.

A Short Bio

So, who were these two Italian brothers? The family included three brothers and Achille Castiglioni was the youngest while Livio was the eldest. The father was an artistic soul, the sculptor Giannino, while the mother was Livia Bolla. This was a creative family, since all the three brothers used their minds to create unique designs, architectural marvels, and industrial-inspired objects. They worked together and alone, always producing challenging pieces of architecture and furniture.

Meeting Achille Castiglioni

Without a doubt, in the world of design, Achille Castiglioni (1918-2002) is the most famous one. He graduated from Milan’s Politecnico in 1944 and, right after his graduation, he joined the studio of his brothers. The three of them participated in the 7th Biennale and it was the first time the world saw them together. Two years later, the youngest Castiglioni became one of the founders of the Association for Industrial Design (ADI).

He won seven Golden Compasses, awarded to creative designers, also thanks to his Parentesi lamp. Between 1955 and 1979, Achille Castiglioni kept winning awards for his designs. His works went beyond Italy. In fact, in 1997, New York’s MOMA dedicated him an exhibit, the biggest one for an Italian designer. Indeed, his works were inspiring. Achille Castiglioni died in 2002, leaving a unique legacy.

Meeting Pier Giacomo Castiglioni

Just like his younger brother, he graduated from Milan’s Politecnico in 1937. He started working with giants of Italian design, such as Gio Ponti and Piero Portaluppi. During his career, Pier Giacomo also restored antique palaces, like the Palazzo della Permanente in Milan, and he also founded the ADI. In 1960, the designer and architect helped in the project of the brewery and restaurant Splügen Bräu, where he placed lamps, glasses, and accessories.

In his decades of work, Pier Giacomo produced the innovative Phonola radio and even cutlery that is still in production, by the company Alessi. When he wasn’t working with his brothers, he was creating pieces like the Luminator lamp, the school chair Palini, and the coffee machine Pitagora. In the meantime, he also won awards, like the 1955 Golden Compass, which he won again in 1960, 1962, 1964, and 1967. The Italian designer died in 1968, young but leaving a long-lived legacy behind.

So, Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni were two brothers united in their love for design. And, together, they worked for companies such as Bernini, Alessi, and Zanotta. Their creativity inspired Italian design companies that loved avant-garde styles and industrial looks.

Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni

Forget Banality

Both in their collaborations and in their separate projects, the two Italian designers shared the same values and philosophy. They looked for curious forms and shapes, even from found, random objects. This trend started with Achille Castiglioni, who loved collecting objects he found on his path, letting inspiration come to him. He passed this feeling and view to his brothers, especially Pier Giacomo.

They looked at reality from a different perspective, at least compared to the traditional Italian designers. With them, reality becomes simple and everything goes back to its roots. It might sound minimalistic, but there is nothing wrong with elegant yet simple pieces of furniture and art. In fact, the craftsmanship is in the details and in each of the elements, from the biggest to the tiniest.

The two brothers recovered everyday objects and they turned them into exceptional creations. For example, the hole of the Arco lamp, designed to hold a broom’s stick to easily move the lamp. Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni wanted objects to become unique, instead of everyday pieces of mass-production. The living rooms of modern society looked all the same. Until a piece designed by Castiglioni entered them. Nothing is random or anonymous, not even a bolt.

In every element and detail they produced, the Castiglioni brothers dedicated the same care. Together, they created lamps, armchairs, and even footstools. Each of them showed the designers’ love for simple lines and innovative shapes. Plus, of course, innovative technology, only the best of its time. The success was a guarantee.

The Creations of the Achille Castiglioni Collaboration with his Brother Pier Giacomo

This brotherly partnership produced exclusive collections, all made with the intent of changing the traditional idea of design. Instead of intricate designs and patterns, they chose simple yet elegant lines and shapes. To them, the term “industrial” didn’t mean cold. It meant “alternative.”

The first result of their partnership was the 1957 Saliscendi lamp, designed for Stilnovo. It features a metal structure with shiny finishes. This is a double-emission adjustable lamp with metal cables to move the lamp up and down. This unique feature allows the light to change direction, making it more or less direct depending on the distance between the body and the reflecting disk. A true innovation for the 1950s, just like everything Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni did.

Here are the most famous products born from the brothers’ collaboration:

  • Sella seat, designed in 1957, produced from 1971 by Zanotta
  • Mezzadro seat, designed in 1957, produced from 1983 by Zanotta
  • Sanluca armchair, Gavina, 1960
  • Lierna chair, Cassina, Gavina, 1960
  • Splügen Braü lamp, Flos, 1961
  • Arco lamp, Flos, 1962
  • Viscontea lamp, Flos, 1962
  • Taccia lamp, Flos, 1962
  • Toio lamp, Flos, 1962
  • Tric chair, Bernini, 1965
  • rr126 radiophonograph, Brionvega, 1965
  • Snoopy lamp, Flos, 1967
  • Rompitratta switch, VLM, 1968

Each and every one of these creations was a success. They showcased the best of modern industrial design, born after World War II and in a consumerist society. With the exception that the two Italian brothers didn’t focus on anonymity. Instead, they focused on creating food for thought, both for the living rooms and the offices.

rr126 Brionvega by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni

Taking The Magnifying Lenses

Let’s take a closer look at these works of design and, why not? Even art. After all, art is made to last through the decades and styles. Just like the pieces designed by the two Castiglioni brothers.

The Arco lamp dates back to 1962 and the designer made it for the company Flos. It’s a floor lamp  with direct light. The base is white marble of Carrara while the structure is made of metal. Starting straight and ending with an arch, this lamp is adjustable, so it’s highly versatile. It’s also easy to move, which made it functional to businesses and places like restaurants.

Arco Lamp by Flos

The Viscontea lamp is another piece made for Flos in the 60s. It’s a suspension lamp that features a metal structure and a diffuser covered in “cocoon” resin. This is another innovative technique used by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni: the cocoon technique. It consists of resin sprayed on a metal frame to create a foggy material that lets the light come in a less invasive way.

Viscontea Lamp by Flos

Another lamp created by the two is the Splügen Braü (1961), always signed for Flos. It’s another suspension light with a turned aluminum reflector. Completely different is Taccia, a lamp designed in 1962. It’s a table lamp in a parable shape which includes a cylindrical body and a covering element which prevents any direct contact with the warm light source. Made with transparent glass, aluminum, and steel, Taccia was an immediate best seller.

Splügen Bräu Lamp by Flos
Taccia Lamp Flos

Their collaboration also produced the Rompitratta lightswitch, designed for VLM in 1968. An iconic piece, this is the light switch that many lamps still use, simple yet efficient. Made in thermoplastic resin, the Rompitratta is resistant, and it features the wavy lines of the two Castiglioni.

Rompitratta by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni for VLM

From Lamps to Seats

From lamps to armchairs with the Sanluca, produced in the 60s for Gavina and re-issued by Poltrona Frau. This armchair is ergonomic and innovative, with a unique profile made to mold with the body. The strCucture is made of different types of wood, including beech tree and poplar. It features separate elements that can all be combined together for easy assembly. In the Sanluca, shapes are the protagonists.

Sanluca Armchair Vintage Gavina Advertising

The Lierna (1960) and Tric (1965) chairs are both examples of industrial design, simple yet charming. The Lierna in particular is a homage to a place in Lake Como and it features a strong structure in lacquered solid wood, while the padded seat is covered leather or fabric. It’s a clean look for a chair that is designed to be pragmatic and innovative. Just as pragmatic is the Tric, a folding chair made with beech wood.

Lierna Chair by Gavina
Tric Chair by Bernini

Finally, the Sella and Mezzadro seats, both produced by Zanotta. The former symbolizes the true soul of Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni: nothing goes to waste. In fact, it features a bicycle seat in black leather and an aluminum, pink pole. On the other hand, the Mezzadro is more of a footstool made thanks to the assembly of industrial elements, like a tractor’s seat. Plus, it combines two different materials, rarely seen together in design: wood and metal. Innovative like anything signed by the Castiglioni brothers.

Sella by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni
Mezzadro Seat by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni

The Last Creation(s) Together

The last result of the two brothers’ collaboration is the Snoopy lamp for Flos, produced in 1967, only one year before Pier Giacomo’s death. This is a table lamp that features two simple and clashing materials: marble and metal. The name says it all: the two designers made this lamp to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the famous cartoon character by Charles M. Schulz.

So, it was a limited edition and Flos only produced 1700 Snoopy lamps. The reflector mimics the shape of a dog’s muzzle while the marble base features the On/Off switch, which was a true innovation in 1967. Despite its simplicity, the Snoopy lamp looks like a contemporary piece of design, elegant and refined. A true limited (and special) edition. This is a unique object, both fun and functional. And this lamp was the last fruit of the successful collaboration between two creative and innovative brothers.

Snoopy Lamp Flos

Achille Castiglioni Creations

Achille Castiglioni kept creating, even after his brother’s death.

Here are some of the most famous products designed by Achille Castiglioni alone:

  • Primate seat, Zanotta, 1970
  • Parentesi lamp, Flos, 1971
  • Noce lamp, Flos, 1972
  • Irma chair, Zanotta, 1979
  • Gibigiana lamp, Flos, 1980
  • Taraxacum ’88 lamp, Flos, 1988
Primate Seat by Achille Castiglioni for Zanotta
Taraxacum '88 by Achille Castiglioni for Flos

Particularly interesting are the 1971 Parentesi lamp and the 1980 floor lamp Gigibiana for Flos. Parentesi’s most relevant feature is the 360° rotation, while Gigibiana is famous for its mirror, used to reflect the light. Even after his death, Achille kept inspiring. In fact, Team EGO.M and architect Gianfranco Cavaglià have brought to life the designer’s last project: an ergonomic pen with a trilobate with arches. A first of its kind.

Parentesi Lamp by Achille Castiglioni for Flos
Gibigiana by Achille Castiglioni for Flos

Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, Two Creative Souls

While the memory of Achille Castiglioni still lives on, Pier Giacomo was active until his last breath. In 1968, he designed the Negozio Omega in Piazza Duomo, Milan, made of shapes, forms, and his signature lamps, of course. With them, the hustle never stopped.

The story of Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni is the story of two brothers, two creative souls, and of a winning couple. They always stayed true to their philosophy and values, never compromising their taste and style. Instead of adjusting to the public’s demands, the two Italian designers respected their ideas and aesthetics. The result? A long-lasting legacy of teachings and beauty.

Like Achille Castiglioni said, “experience doesn’t give certainty nor security. Actually, it improves the chances of mistakes. The more time passes, the more difficult it becomes to improve development. The antidote? Start all over each time, with humility and patience.”

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