Achille Castiglioni wearing glasses

Achille Castiglioni

Italian furniture and lighting designer

“There has to be irony, both in design and in the objects. I see around me a professional disease of taking everything too seriously. One of my secrets is to joke all the time.”

Achille Castiglioni

Achille Castiglioni (born February 16, 1918, Milan–died December 2, 2002, Milan) was a prolific furniture, lighting, and product Italian designer renown for his ironic, joyful, creative and functional designs that, at times, intersected with ideas explored by conceptual artists.

Achille Castiglioni was born into a family with deep appreciation for the arts, as he was the third son of sculptor and coin engraver Giannino Castiglioni and his wife Livia Bolla. He first studied the classics at the Liceo Classico Giuseppe Parini, but then switched to study art at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan. In 1937, he decided to follow the steps of his two elder brothers, architects Livio and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, by enrolling in the Faculty of Architecture at the Politecnico di Milano, graduating in 1944–after having to interrupt his studies when he was stationed in Greece and Sicily during World War II. read more

In 1944, immediately after graduating, Achille Castiglioni joined his brothers Livio and Pier Giacomo in the design studio that they had founded with Livio’s classmate Luigi Caccia Dominioni in 1937 in Milan. Fortunately for Achille, from the very beginning Livio and Pier Giacomo decided to focus almost entirely on designing exhibitions, furniture, housewares, and appliances since architectural commissions were difficult to come by during the war. This product-design focus, and the deep fraternal bound among the three brothers, would later allow the young Achille to experiment early in his career with emerging techniques and new materials that could communicate a fresh aesthetic sensibility suited for the positive outlook of the post-war European market.

Brionvega radio RR126 by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni
Brionvega radio RR126 by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni (1965)

The Castiglioni brothers’ important collaboration with Phonola and Brionvega

In 1940, Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, Livio Castiglioni, and Luigi Caccia Dominioni, in collaboration withe the Phonola company, presented in the VII Triennale di Milano (Milan Triennial), titled Exhibition of the Radio, a research study of radio devices that included the Fimi Phonola 547 radio, the first radio encased in Bakelite instead of wood. Shortly after the exhibition, Luigi Caccia Dominioni suspended his professional activity to serve in the military during World War II and left the studio.

The development of the FImi Phonola 547 radio would prove fruitful for the three brothers, as it allowed Livio Castiglioni to cement his role as the leading design consultant for Phonola from 1940 until 1960, and for Brionvega, from 1960 until 1964. These relationships brought in further collaboration among the three brothers, and would eventually result in several designs for radio and sound appliances with innovative materials and shapes for which Achille Castiglioni played a key role, such as the RR 226 stereo system for Brinovega (1965), the radio phonograph RR 126 for Brinovega (1965), and the radio and record player RR 128 for Brionvega (1966)

In 1952, Livio decided to build his own practice, independent from Achille and Pier Giacomo, to pursue a deeper exploration of radio waves, music, and technology. But the three brothers would continued to collaborate closely in several projects, and the partnership between Achille and Pier Giacomo became so tight that from 1952 until 1968, when Pier Giacomo died, they co-authored most of their designs.

Achille Castiglioni Long Career as Light Designer

During this period, the Castiglioni brothers participated in the Italian Exhibition of Furniture (RIMA), where they successfully introduced a series of curved-plywood furniture, and presented important designs, such as the Tubino lamp (1949), originally produced by Italian light maker Arteluce from 1949 until 1974, and reintroduced by FLOS since the late 1970s; and the Luminator lamp (1955), originally produced by Gilardi & Barzaghi, but reintroduced by FLOS in the late 1960s.

Gatto table lamp by Achille Castiglioni
Gatto table lamp by Achille Castiglioni (1960)

A new, successful, and long-lasting collaboration developed in 1960, when Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni were reached by entrepreneurial Italian designer Dino Gavina and business man Arturo Eisenkeil with the idea to create a completely new kind of lighting fixtures utilizing a polyamide. The material, which they called “cocoon,” in the hands of the Castiglioni brothers would become a popular and iconic innovation in the 1960s and serve as the successful foundation of Italian lighting company FLOS–founded by Gavina and Eisenkeil in 1962.

Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni designed a series of “cocoon” lights utilizing the spray-on polyamide plastic as a coating layer onto a metal frame. Among the most popular Castiglioni “cocoon” lights are: the Taraxacum and the Viscontea ceiling lamps (1960), and the Gatto table lamp (1961).

Snoopy lamp, marble, glass, and enameled metal, designed by Achille Castiglioni at Casati Gallery
Snoopy lamp by Achille Castiglioni (1967) – Casati Gallery

Other of the important lamp designs by Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni for FLOS are the Beehive -or Splügen Braü lamp (1961), Toio –or Toy lamp (1962),  Arco lamp (1962), Taccia lamp (1962), Snoopy lamp (1967), the Gibigiana desk lamp (1980), the Grip floor lamp (1985), and the Taraxacum 88 (1988).

Prominent Achille Castiglioni Furniture and Product Designs

But they also designed playful furnishings products during this time; some examples are: Sello stool for Zanotta (1957), Sgabello per Telefono, a telephone stool in the shape of a bicycle seat, and the Mezzardo, or sharecropper’s stool, for Zanotta (1957); the Spalter vacuum cleaner, for R.E.M. di Rossetti Enrico (1956); the Sanluca chair for Gavina (1961); and the Cacciavite, or Screwdriver, side table by Zanotta (1966).

Close up top view of black side Cacciavite side table by Achille Castiglioni manufactured by Zanotta
Cacciavite (screwdriver) side table by Achille Castiglioni manufactured by Zanotta (1966) – Casati Gallery

The quality and uniqueness of Achille Castiglioni’s light and furniture designs are evident not only by the success that these products had when they were first introduced in the market, but by their ability to continue to connect with a contemporary audience. As any of his lights and furniture designs are still in production today, and are among the bestsellers for FLOS and for Zanotta.

Achille Castiglioni’s Late Solo Design Career and Awards

After the death of Pier Giacomo, Achille Castiglioni continued as a solo designer and urban planner. In 1969, he started to teach architecture and design at the Politecnico di Torino, and from 1980 onwards, he taught at the Politectinico di Milano.

Achille Castiglioni won the Compasso DOro, Italy’s top prize for industrial design, nine times. In 1955, for the  Luminator lamp, 1969 for the T 12 Palini chair, in 1962 for the Pitagora coffee maker, in 1964 for Spinamatic beer spinner, in 1967 for a headset for simultaneous translations, in 1979 for the lamp Prentesi lamp and for the Omsa hospital bed, in 1984 for the Dry cutlery set, and in 1989 Castiglioni was awarded a special mention for his design contributions as he “elevated Design, through his irreplaceable experience, to the highest cultural values.” In 2001, he was awarded a doctorate Honoris Causa in Industrial Design by his alma matter Politecnico di Milano.

In addition, Achille Castiglioni was recognized during this life by multiple institutions outside of Italy, such as:

  • In 1985, Honorary Member of thbe “Commtee of Advisors” at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
  • In 1986, Honorary Member of the Faculty of Royal Designers for the Royal Society of Art in London.
  • In 1987, Honoris Causa of the Royal College of Art in London.
  • In 1993, Annual award of “The Chartered Society of Designer” of London.
  • In 1995, Award “Art sur Table” from the Conseil National des Art Culinaire in Paris.
  • In 1996, Premio “IF Design Wettbewerb” dal Industrie Forum Design di Hannover.

Important Museum Exhibitions Honoring Achille Castiglioni’s Design and Architecture Contributions

His contributions to design and architecture have also been acknowledged by important museum exhibitions honoring his career.

  • In 1995, “A la Castiglioni,” at the Primavera del Designl, Barcelona.
  • In 1997, “Achille Castiglioni. DESIGN!,”at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, a comprehensive exhibition of his work, New York.
  • In 1998, at the Living Design Center Ozone, Tokyo.
  • In 2018, A Castiglioni,”  at the Triennale di Milano, a comprehensive exhibition commemorating 100 year anniversary of Achille Castiglioni’s birth, curated by architect and designer Patricia Urquiloa, Milan.
  • In 2020, “Achille Castiglioni and brothers. Master of Italian Design,” at the Hangaram Art Museum – Seoul Arts Centre, curated by Ico Migliore and Mara Servetto, Seoul Korea.

For more information on Achille Castiglioni, visit Fondazione Achille Castiglioni.

Last updated: May 29, 2020

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