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