achille castiglioni portrait Achille Castiglioni (Milan, 1918-2002)

Italian designer Achille Castiglioni (1918-2002) was born in Milan and is regarded as one of the greatest designers of the twentieth century. During his half-century career, Achille Castiglioni designed over 150 objects, including lamps, stools, bookshelves, electrical switches, cameras, telephones, vacuum cleaners and car seats. Many of his designs, like the Arco and Brera lamps, the Firenze wall clock, the RR 126 stereo system, and the Primate seat, achieve the highest standards of visual art as well as design, and several of his works are featured in the design collections of major museums. Taking as his motto ''Design demands observation,'' Castiglioni has created objects that are inspired by and respond to the demands of everyday life, basing some of his most famous designs on quotidian objects like a street lamps or a car's front reflector. His work is marked throughout by an attention both to the timeless essentials of great design and to the changing behavior and values of modern culture.

Achille Castiglioni studied architecture at the Polytechnic of Milan and, in 1944, set up a design office with his brothers, Livio and Pier Giacomo --Livio left in 1952--, which would become one of the wittiest, elegant and innovative partnerships in modern design. Their dominant philosophy was that design must restructure an object's function, form and production process, and they applied this maxim to every work that they produced. Castiglioni described this process: "Start from scratch. Stick to common sense. Know your goals and means."

Castiglioni's long career include his important collaborations with his brothers Pier Giacomo (d.1968) and Livio (d.1979). In the 1950s the Castiglioni brothers publicly cemented their commitment to redesigning objects, with their tractor seat stool, "Mezzadro," and their "Sella" chair made of a bicycle seat. Castiglioni said of his design for the "Sella," "When I use a pay phone, I like to move around, but I also would like to sit, but not completely." These designs drew upon the "ready-made" school of art, in which everyday objects are repurposed for the showroom floor. In 1956, Castiglioni founded the Association for Industrial Design, and in 1957 they held a show entitled, "Forme e Colori nella Casa d'Oggi" at the Olmo Villa in Como, to exhibit their series of ready-made designs. During the 1950s and 1960s they produced a remarkable number of popular designs. Their "Spalter" vacuum cleaner (1956), manufactured by Rem, was made of bright red plastic and was meant to be slung across the user's back with a leather strap, like a bag. Their lamps, the minimalist "Luminator" (1955) and "Bulb" (1957), employed exposed bulbs, while their "Arco" (1962) was a floor lamp with a long, curved arm extending eight feet from the marble base which had to be moved "by two people inserting a broomstick through the hole in the base." Their "Snoopy" (1967) table lamp, indeed inspired by the cartoon character, also had a marble base, which stabilized the egg-shaped metal and glass shade. Their "Toio" (1962) lamp used a car reflector as its inspiration. Their lighting system for the Montecatini pavilion at the Milan Fair in 1962 featured cone shaped lights suspended from wires. The Castiglioni brothers also designed the "RR126" stereo system (1965), which was meant to be a "musical pet," and was considered to be one of his "Expressionistic Objects." The dials and controls form the shape of a face, with the speakers as ears. This design, for Brionvega, was free standing, with casters to make it mobile, and the speakers folded up when not in use, making the design more compact.

Castiglioni taught for many years, first at the Polytechnic of Turin, starting in 1969 and later leading a class in Industrial Design at the Architectural Polytechnic of Milan, to a group of several thousand students. He exhibited his designs at every Milan Triennial from 1947 through the end of the century, and has received seven Compasso d'Oro awards. Castiglioni's method, to have "a constant and consistent way of designing, not a style," led him to create products that helped restore Italy's quality of life in the post-war years and used the household object in innovative and whimsical ways.