Good EnergyRemembering Achille Castiglioni
"I want to give my father like a medicine ... to encourage this sense of curiosity in others ... I want [people] to leave feeling inspired by Achille, and energised to keep going."
At the London showroom of lighting specialists Atrium, ranks of spherical bulbs are suspended above the entrance, their warm LED filaments reflected as delicate haloes of light in each glass surface. The repeated fixture that makes up the display is Bulbo57, a design by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, originally created as an installation for the XI Triennale in Milan in 1957. After the Triennale, four of the Bulbo lamps were installed in Achille’s home in Milan, and two more were placed above the desk in his studio – this is now home to the Studio Museo Achille Castiglioni, where they remain on display. In December 2019, FLOS updated the design of the Bulbo57 and brought it into production for the first time.
I am at Atrium to meet Giovanna Castiglioni, curator of the Studio Museo, vice president of the Fondazione Achille Castiglioni, and daughter of Achille. Downstairs in the FLOS showroom, rows of chairs are set facing a platform in anticipation of her talk this evening, to mark the launch of Bulbo57. The iconic form of the Arco lamp curves over the seats from its Carrara marble base. On the stage are further designs by the Castiglioni brothers, who worked together in their studio until Pier Giacomo’s death in 1968: the Taccia lamp, encased in a dome of reflective aluminium, and the Lampadina, an elegant bulb attached to a film reel base, designed in 1971. I am introduced to Castiglioni, who smiles warmly behind round, metal-framed glasses. We take a seat in the front row of the empty room. “I began working at the Fondazione in 2006, and it was a big change for me, because I am a geologist,” she tells me, as we look over the lighting fixtures on the stage before us. “My husband is also a geologist, and one in the family is enough,” she laughs. “I am very curious, and dynamic; I like to make changes all the time – I do not want to stay still or grow bored of myself.” Over her shoulder, I notice Achille’s words emblazoned across the showroom wall: “If you are not curious, forget it.”
This spirit, inherent in Achille’s designs, is what Castiglioni works to promote and preserve alongside her mother and older brother. “This message is so important for future designers. Achille was so curious about everyday things. Take the Taccia, inspired by a car headlight, or the slender Toio floor lamp that uses fishing-rod rings to guide the cord along its stem. Or the Lampadina, where the light is fixed to a film reel. This creates such interesting, unexpected applications: you can wind the cord up around the reel and place it on a table, or pick it up and fix it to the wall.” She hands me a yellow flip-book, called Lampadina: Castiglioni in 2 sec. An illustration of a young Giovanna running through her family home with her pet Dachsund comes to life through the pages: she picks up the Lampadina from a side table beside her mother and attaches it to a wall above an armchair, where she settles down with her dog to read a book. It is a wonderfully simple demonstration of the power of Achille’s designs. “Sometimes you do not need to speak too much,” she says. “At universities, professors can spend so much time discussing Achille Castiglioni and the philosophy behind his industrial designs, when a two-second flip-book will do. I know there is a lot of important thinking behind the objects, and my father took his designs very seriously, but he was very playful, too.”
Another pithy encapsulation of Achille’s mindset as a designer is displayed on the showroom wall; the quotation reads: “Delete, delete, delete and at the end, find the core aspect of the design”. This method is demonstrable in the design of the Bulbo57, an industrial bulb with the screw cap removed and the neck shortened. The result is an object of remarkable lightness, like a floating bubble, where the tungsten filament inside becomes a sculptural focal point. At the XI Triennale, the bulbs were originally set up in series, which reduced the available current to each fixture, producing an unexpectedly warm and appealing quality of light. The filament, now replaced with an LED source, has been carefully designed to match the same level of warmth. The bulbs are produced in pairs, and can be grouped in larger compositions, like that in the entranceway.
Castiglioni shows me pictures of the Bulbo lamps in the Milan studio, suspended above her father’s desk, as well as his original sketches of the design. “I want to give my father like a medicine,” Giovanna says. “His work is a good medicine. When people visit the studio and museum, they must leave with a good energy. I want to encourage this sense of curiosity in others; I don’t want people to leave thinking, ‘Oh we have lost such an important man’ – no! I want them to leave feeling inspired by Achille, and energised to keep going. I am very lucky to be part of this. It is a unique way to remember Achille and keep his spirit alive.”