unnecessary elements had been removed, reducing it
to its bare essentials. Whether or not this minimalist
obsession was a response to the scarcity of resources or
a conscious design decision, the result was a series of
products remarkable for their stripped-down aesthetic,
cementing Castiglioni’s reputation as a genius who
used minimal means to create maximum effect.
An early example is Luminator (1954), a floor lamp
that looks as if it has been assembled from pieces
found in a junkyard – a light bulb stuck on a piece of
metal tubing. In fact it is carefully engineered, the lamp
body made of sintered iron using a traditional process
and then coated in black enamel. The legs of the tripod
base are of liquid-lacquered metal. It turned enough
heads to win a Compasso d’Oro design award in 1955.
Aesthetics were only part of the story. The Castiglionis
never forgot they were designing objects for illumination,
and what might appear to be a decorative flourish often
serves a practical purpose. The 1962 Taccia lamp for
Flos is another deceptively simple piece in which a white
aluminium dome positioned over a deep translucent
glass bowl acts as a reflecting screen. The corrugated
design of the base looks decorative, but in fact the shape
helps to disperse the heat from the lamp.
Or take Frisbi (1964), a pendant luminaire with a
suspended disc-like diffuser that explains its name.
Its delicately elegant structure is designed to combine
direct and indirect light. Some light is directed
downwards through the opening in the opal acrylic
diffuser, and the rest is reflected by the diffuser’s matt
surface and emitted upwards as soft, ambient lighting.
The luminaire, which went into production with Flos
in 1978, was a MoMA design collection award winner.
Achille Castiglioni drew inspiration from the world
around him, seeing potential in the most mundane
items. He had a personal collection of found objects,
gathered over a lifetime, that he used to illustrate
how design could transmute something ordinary into
something different and special.
Paola Antonelli, a senior design curator at MoMA, tells
a story from when she was an architecture student at
Milan Polytechnic in the eighties, when Castiglioni was
one of her lecturers. He would arrive with ‘a large Mary
Poppins-like black bag from which he would extract
and line up on the table that day’s chosen pieces from
his stupendous collection of found objects: toys made
from beer cans that he had bought in Teheran, odd
eyeglasses… wooden stools from Aspen, Colorado…
small suction cups strong enough to lift a table. These
were the most effective tools of design instruction.’
The Castiglionis’ famed ‘ready-made’ series of the
fifties was based on such objects. They would take a
familiar, everyday item and ‘repurpose’ it to serve a
The Toio floor lamp is built
around a 300W car headlight
imported from the US