Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni: Humor in the shape of light

Italian brothers Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni became, in a very short time, lead characters of Italian design in the 1960s. Humor combined with a desire to bring material and technological innovations in the lighting design field made the Castiglioni brothers, known for example for the Gatto and Snoopy lamps, legends in the world of design.

Designer Achille Castiglioni.
After Pier Giacomo passed in 1968, Achille Castiglioni continued his career solo. In 1980 he became a professor at Politecnico di Milano.

THE CASTIGLIONI BROTHERS Achille and Pier Giacomo collaborated in the 1960s in many innovative and creative projects with Italian companies, such as Cassina, Kartell, Poltrone Frau, Alessi and, in the lighting sector, Flos. With each of these, the brothers succeeded in a challenging mission: transforming an ordinary and everyday object into a distinctive – and often humorous – design piece.

Piero Gandini, the CEO of Flos, recalled Achille's playful attitude towards design at the opening of the exhibition A Castiglioni at the Milan Triennale in October 2018:

“Something that Achille has always transmitted to me, even in the most advanced years of his career, was his positive energy. His mimicry, his curious way of moving, his voice... For a while, I thought it was just humor. Then I realized there was more. He always wanted to change things, he had a subversive attitude to the project and to society,” Gandini said.

Designer Achille Castiglioni and his Taraxacum 88 lamp.
“Something that Achille has always transmitted to me, even in the most advanced years of his career, was his positive energy,” says Piero Gandini, the CEO of Flos, when talking about Achille Castiglioni.
Toio floor lamp by Flos.
The Toio floor lamp, a rewarded design by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni from 1962, effortlessly combines an elegant, minimalistic form and a whimsical take on industrial design language.
Snoopy table lamp by Flos.
The playful Snoopy table lamp by Flos lends its fun name from the Peanuts. The modular storage system is by Montana Furniture.

The name Toio, chosen for their 1962 floor lamp lit by a car headlight, could be the starting point to define one of the Castiglioni's design foundations. The name is based on a simple word pun: starting from the English word ‘toy’, the designers picked out a way to appropriate themselves of the foreign word and introduce it to the Italian public by modifying it.

Also, the Snoopy lamp from 1967 can definitely be characterized as a playful piece: the marble-based table lamp has a distinctive beagle-like silhouette resembling the Snoopy dog from the Peanuts.

See also

Toio floor lamp
Taccia table lamp
Trio corner shelf unit
AC04 fruit bowl/colander
Arco floor lamp
Lampadina table lamp
Libreria Pensile shelf
Splügen Bräu pendant
Pier Giacomo Castiglioni and the Taraxacum pendant.
Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni left a lasting imprint on European design both with their unique design language and technical innovations.
Gatto and Gatto Piccolo lamps by Flos.
The enchanting Gatto lamp by Flos emits a soft, magical light that together with its unique form makes it an irresistibly beautiful decor element.

Another example, a more technically innovative one, was the project for the Gatto lamp from 1960. Achille and Pier Giacomo proposed one of the first applications of Cocoon, a plastic material obtained from a special liquid resin that, sprinkled around the steel wire structure, determines the shape of the lamp and diffuses warm light. Originally used by the US Army as a protective material for packaging, it got a new identity, thanks to the Castiglioni’s creativity.

Taccia table lamp by Flos and Fay chair by Adea.
A play on perspective, the Taccia table lamp draws inspiration from a pendant lamp hung upside down. The beautiful Fay chair is by Adea.
Achille Castiglioni and Luminato floor lamp.
The Luminator floor lamp from 1954 is simultaneously extremely bare and exceedingly expressive.

The Castiglioni brothers moved smoothly from humor to material experimentations and to the role of function, avoiding any useless details. “Delete, delete, delete until you can say: less than this cannot be done,” Achille Castiglioni used to repeat to his students at the Politecnico di Milano. The Castignioni's work is a great example that design can definitely be full of humor and stripped down at the same time.

Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni.
The original imprint of Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni looks just as fresh and exciting today as it did decades ago.

Who: Achille (1918–2002) & Pier Giacomo (1913–1968) Castiglioni

  • Both studied architecture at the Politecnico di Milano.
  • Sons of the sculptor Giannino Castiglioni. Their brother Livio (1911–1979) was also an architect.
  • Best-known work: many lamps, including Toio, Gatto, Snoopy, Taccia and Arco, Mezzadro chair, Spalter vacuum cleaner.
  • After Pier Giacomo's death in 1968, Achille continued by himself and became a full-time professor at the Politecnico di Milano in 1980.
  • Pier Giacomo won five Compasso d’Oro awards, Achille was awarded the prize nine times.

See also:

Products by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni >

Text: Antonia Solari Images: Cesare Colombo, Franco Cotti, Flos and other manufacturers

Previous story
Next story