Italy, 1918 – 2002
“Start from scratch. Stick to common sense. Know your goals and means.” - Achille Castiglioni
Achille Castiglioni was born in Milan in 1918 and studied architecture, graduating in 1944. As there was little work for young Italian architects immediately after World War II, Castiglioni joined his elder brothers – Livio (1911-1979) and Pier Giacomo (1913-1968) in the industrial design studio they had established on Piazza Castello in Milan. He worked with them on commercial projects such as the 1938 Caccia set of cutlery, still used in Italian homes today, and the strikingly light, svelte 1939 five valve radio receiver they developed for Phonola.
Like other recent architecture graduates, the Castiglionis began to develop products for Italian manufacturers, which were launching or rebuilding their businesses after World War II. Many of these manufacturers were young, energetic and eager to experiment with the new technologies and materials that had been developed by the defense industry during the War. This access to new technology, along with the proud artisanal tradition in Italian industry, fostered a new generation of manufacturers that relished the opportunity to collaborate with equally enthusiastic young designers to develop innovative and inspiring products for receptive post-war consumers.
Throughout Castiglioni’s career he formed close and enduring relationships with a small group of carefully selected manufacturers with which he felt empathetic. Among the most productive of these relationships was Castiglioni’s work with Flos, the Italian lighting manufacturer. He and Pier Giacomo developed dozens of extraordinarily inventive lights for Flos. The 1962 Arco floor lamp was modeled on a streetlight to project the light source eight feet from its heavy marble base and the Toio floor lamp that was inspired by a car reflector.
Castiglioni remained curious, challenging and inventive until his death in 2002. Superbly resolved as his work was in terms of its formal qualities, he never lost his wit or his delight in paradox. “There has to be irony both in design and in the objects,” he said. “I see around me a professional disease of taking everything too seriously. One of my secrets is to joke all the time.”