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

Born in Milan in 1918, Castiglioni studied architecture at the local polytechnic, graduating in 1944.

Work was scarce in Italy after World War II, so he joined his elder brothers, Livio and Pier Giacomo, in the studio they’d formed with architect Luigi Caccia Dominioni.

Post-war, many newly established Italian manufacturers and designers were eager to experiment with the new technologies and materials that had been developed during the war.

Accordingly, Achille and Pier Giacomo designed the Tubino light in 1951, when the fluorescent tube was still in its infancy (it only went into production in 1974).

In 1961, the two brothers created the Splügen Braü light: a highly polished domed pendant light with horizontal ribs inside and out.

It marked the start of a life-long collaboration with lighting company Flos, and the following year they designed three of their most famous lights for Flos: Taccia, Arco and Toio.

An interest in electronics led to design work for Italian radio and television company Brionvega, and in 1965 the ingenious RR 126 stereo system was launched.

It consisted of a record player flanked by two square speakers that could sit neatly on top.

After his brother Pier Giacomo died in 1968, Castiglioni continued to design alone and also began an influential teaching career.

The 1970s saw him diversify into other areas of product design, with a range of sanitary-ware for Ideal Standard, and from 1979 Alessi began to manufacture his old designs and commission new ones.

By the 1990s, Castiglioni was still designing for cutting-edge firms like Moroso, along with his staple companies Flos, Zanotta and Alessi. He died in 2002, aged 84.

Fast facts

Castiglioni believed that design should add humour to our lives. The Snoopy light (1967; pictured) was so named because its silhouette was similar to the cartoon dog.

Other examples of Castiglioni’s witty approach include homages to Dada artist Marcel Duchamp, as found in the use of a fishing rod and car headlamp in his Toio floor light (1962) and the tractor and bicycle seats in the Mezzadro (pictured) and Sella designs (1957).

These chairs were so radical at the time that it wasn’t until 1971 and 1983 respectively that Zanotta put them into production.

While many of Castiglioni’s 150 or so designs were offbeat, he also had the discipline to refine objects.

The 1950 Leonardo table is a basic height-adjustable trestle table free of extraneous parts and resolved to perfection.


Best known for …

Castiglioni produced famous lighting designs for Flos, furniture for Zanotta and home products for Alessi.

Most of his important early works were designed with his brother Pier Giacomo. Their most famous collaboration is the Arco floor lamp for Flos in 1962.

Loosely based on the common street lamp, it’s now one of the most recognised (and copied) lights of the 20th century.

More notable designers:

* George Nelson
* Martin Waller
* Oliver Holy Q & A

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