reinventing modernist design.
Achille and Pier Giacomo’s projects of the fifties and
sixties embody the rigorous method, technical skill,
instinct for form and love of irony characteristic of
Italian design at the time. Their products satisfy at
a practical and emotional level. Many raise a smile.
Function drives the process, certainly. ‘You cannot
make a decorative object without a reason,’ said
Achille. But why should the end product not lift the
spirits too? ‘There has to be irony both in design and in
the objects,’ he insisted. ‘I see around me a professional
disease of taking everything too seriously. One of my
secrets is to joke all the time.’
One look at the Snoopy light, designed in 1967 for Flos,
gives him away. A sloping white marble base supports
a tilted enamelled black metal reflector, irresistibly
suggestive of a certain cartoon dog.
But behind the fun is a serious point. What the
Castiglionis and their peers were doing was rejecting
a core tenet of functionalism – that form should
be dictated by function. Instead, they re-examined
functionality in order to devise new visual forms that
would do the job – but also bring a little wit and beauty
into the world.
Achille started every project with a process of
analysis. Was the product really needed? If so, what
were its essential components? What materials and
technologies were required to develop and produce it?
He believed it was essential to approach each project
with a fresh mind and a clean slate. ‘Experience gives
neither certainty nor security, but rather increases the
chance of error,’ he said. ‘I would say it is better to start
from scratch each time with humility.’
Every project turned on the identification of the
principal design component – the core of the item
without which it could not function. ‘My method is
to take out again and over again, until I find the main
design component,’ he explained. ‘A minimum sign, a
minimum shape required by the function. I want to get
to say: “Less than this, I can’t do it.”’ From there, the
design evolved rationally until the desired result was
achieved. Or, in Castiglioni’s words: ‘Start from scratch.
Stick to common sense. Know your goals and means.’
For example, the Tubino lamp of 1951 was built around
GE’s 6W fluorescent tube, newly arrived from the US,
the shape of which caught the brothers’ fancy. They
devised a snaking support of black-painted enamelled
steel that complemented the lines of the tube, adding
an aluminium shield to protect against glare and
reflect the light. So advanced was the technology that
the lamp didn’t go into production with Flos until
1974; it was picked up 25 years later by Habitat.
No product was considered successful until all ▼
Achille and Pier Giacomo
Castiglioni became one of
design’s most celebrated