Castiglioni Studio, Milano

Can design whose chief objective is to solve everyday problems be beautiful? Particularly in today’s world where our aesthetics change rapidly as anything, from anywhere can be sought out anytime, can an object designed to function at one point in time be enduring?  Glitzy shop displays and industrial-strength banner adverts force feeding us elaborately beautiful, ornate and glamorous images remind us that utility-based design can hardly be enduringly beautiful.  Tour of Castiglioni Studio debunks that myth.

Castiglioni Studio is located in the leafy residential neighborhood just outside the southern walls of Sforza Castle in Milano and it is in this very studio Achille and his brother Pier Giacomo worked almost entirely their prolific 40 some year career. Even for the uninitiated you would have come across some of their lamps, chairs if not every day utensils of Castiglioni design.

‘Anonymous Design’ philosophy the brothers held fast to in which design is modeled after everyday objects and where function always follows shape lead to countless and timeless creations which surround our daily lives.  Considering how unapproachably expensive Castiglioni products have become (lighting are manufactured by Flos and furniture by B&B Italia and other household Italian names), tour of the studio is a fascinating look into the intimate and hands-on work environment where there was no set aesthetic objective but only pragmatic function mattered.

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tour reveals numerous bits of Castiglioni design ethos

Giovanna and Carlo Castiglioni are inviting hosts of their father’s studio and offers enthusiastic tours to visitors.  A designer who lead the tour drops numerous bits of tales including how a portable cup Achille found at a fishmonger’s inspired a wall lamp shade which emanates strips of light diagonally and how cocoon fabric originally developed by US army was turned into Taraxacum lamp on Flos’ commission and Achille’s whimsy.

You witness numerous versions of prototypes and revisions of ARCO lamp and realize how subtle revisions have brought what was in 1962 an already modern lamp to today’s fixture in interior showrooms.  Apparently the 65kg marble base when it was originally released in the 60’s was a sensible choice considering how cheap that material once was. One of Achille’s unusual foray into fashion, a Borsalino hat in the shape of cake baking mold sheds a light into his humor, an ever present ingredient in his design.

Walking around the studio and peering into some of the thousands of sketches and prototypes littered around this small den reveals how Castiglioni brothers’ mission to create simple and smart objects solved everyday problems by stripping down the design to their necessary minimum. I marvel at the minimalist and utterly basic lamp switch which is now de facto standard across Europe.  I crack a smile at the whimsical spoon, purpose-designed for Kraft Mayonnaise jar, straight on one side to scrape the bottom and the top of the jar.

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Deceptive floor to ceiling mirror Achille invited and many visitors crashed into

The tour is an absolute delight, an immersive yet easygoing stroll around the tiny studio accompanied by full of behind-the-scenes nuggets in design inspirations. No designer uptightedness, just warm and playful banter among people who love design and want to be inspired from the pilgrimage. Leaving the studio and walking out to the tranquil of the courtyard, I’m reminded of the simplicity of genius in designing objects which transcend the time they were invented.

Castiglioni Studio, Piazza Castello 27, 20121, Milano

+39 02 8053 606

By appointment only, tours at 10am, 11am and 12pm, ask for English tour availability

Museo del Novecento Milano (& Ristorante Giacomo Arengario)

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How does one who is terrified of large crowd enjoy what is arguably the most touristy destination in the city of Milan?  Museo 900 (Novencento) was my answer to the unhindered, spitting distance view of Milano Duomo without the hassle that you normally endure. Novencento is a museum of 20th century Italian art right at the foot steps of Milano Duomo and each floor offers unobstructed, majestic viewing experience of Duomo. I would have been happy to use each floor of this compact museum as the viewing deck  at varying eye-levels but there was a whole world of modern Italian art to be discovered.

As Cinquecento refers to early Renaissance art of 16th century, Novencento refers to art of the last century. Novecento traces its roots to a group of artists who launched the movement at 1924 Venice Biennale but its origins go further back to the new generation of Italian futurists like Umberto Boccioni and Carlo Carra who went to Paris at the turn of the century and came back with a manifesto of futurism. Influences which would later be categorized as Impressionism. Expressionism, Cubism, Abstraction all appear in their early works and they are amply displayed in this Museum. Their artistic statements are open diatribe against then contemporary bourgeoisie’s cultural traditionalism and classicism for the sake of modernity.

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Museo 900 (Novencento) is right at the footsteps of Duomo Milano

The first room you enter is a bit of turn-of-the-century art onslaught with various masters littered in one little, unassuming corner. Braque landscape, Picasso and Matisse nudes, Cezzane and Modigliani portraits and Kandinsky composition are all jostling for elbow room in this small space. It’s the only museum I know that gets you inches close to the masters’ paintings – gallery viewing experience of sorts, rather than a museum. No tape, no barriers nor floor markers to separate you from exhilaration. As you wind your way up the five floors of exhibition space, it all culminates to the open loft space with spectacular view, again, of Duomo. Floor to ceiling windows are the perfect canvas to frame the magnificence of Duomo, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele and the spectacle of mass tourism in the Piazza.  Taking a peek behind the escalator, there are steps up to another mezzanine above the loft and surprise encore presentation of sorts: a room dedicated to Lucio Fontana and his slit canvases.


Another motivation to make it to this building is to enter Giacomo Arengario, the restaurant at the fourth level of Novencento with views of Duomo (it helps to break the museum walk with a long boozy lunch). You come here to soak in the uninterrupted view away and above the crowd so expect a large bill (most starters and primi starts from eur20 and secondi from 30). One word of caution… If you’re avoiding pasta, the rest of the menu is primarily seafood (my amberjack ceviche and seabass with fruit salad were both excellent) so forget paring with Barolo or Brunello and go for beer or bianco).


As I sit back and indulge in my second glass of Orvieto and binge on more renaissance and medieval architecture across the balcony (Duomo now turned sparkling ivory under the mid-day sun) I muse at the contrast of modern art that I just left behind.  Yes, there is modern art in Italy and not just by those who were directly influenced by turn-of-the-century French but rather by its own distinct futuristic tradition.

Best way to enter Novencento is by buying the 72hr Museum Pass for eur12 and get unlimited access to all Milano Civic Museums including Novencento (discounted to eur10, if you hold Milan Card, another necessity which gives you free 72hr pass to public transportation and other discounts around he city).

Museo Novecento Milano – Via Marconi 1, 20122, Milano, Italy

+39 2 8844 4061

Giacomo Arengario (entrance from inside Novecento on 4fl or through steps from ground level of Piazza Duomo)

+39 2 7209 3814

Shinjuku Gyoen (新宿御苑) in summer

Take a sharp right as you enter the turnstiles of Shinjuku Gate of Shinjuku Gyoen and follow the big loop along the western end of the park, you arrive at the traditional Japanese koi pond (Kami No Ike, Upper Pond). This western most located pond is one of the most picturesque in the park complete with arched stone foot bridge and rolling Japanese pines through years of deliberate stunting. Perched on the northern end to one side of pond is a shaded pavilion with the vantage point to pause and take in the idyllic scenery. Tokyo heat and humidity in the summer can be punishing and braving the bench out in the open would be ill-advised.  Walking over the footbridge, pond surface bristles and you notice the koi’s race towards you with their jaws wide open. These guys are smart (and some are alligator-proportions).

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Looking out from the pavilion, ever-present Docomo Tower looms tall over the Japanese Garden

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Shaded pavilion perched on the northern end to one side of the pond

Another way to escape the heat and mosquitoes is to head straight into Rakuutei traditional tea house as you cross the bridge. This is the smaller of the two tea houses in the Japanese Garden and perhaps less atmospheric as it is encased by opaque Japanese sliding doors and windows. It does have the advantage of being less crowded.  Red bean paste Japanese sweet served with matcha is Y700 and comes with completely atmosphere killing, voucher dispensing ticket vending machine from which you buy the voucher and present to the kimono-clad matron to be served. Matcha is perfectly foamed and I nurse my mosquito bites nibbling at the red bean sweet.  Recharge here to brave the heat once more and walk towards Taiwanese Pavilion.

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Matcha at Rakuutei, foamed to perfection

The lawn in front of Taiwanese Pavilion is the perfect spot for a Japanese picnic (read bento and sake from the nearest combini). Shoutentei, the larger of the two tea house is near by to supply ice bars to cool you down. Taiwanese pavilion was presented by the Japanese residing in Taiwan to the crown price (later the Emperor Showa) for his imperial wedding ceremony and built in the Minnan (southern Taiwanese) architectural style. Taiwanese Pavilion marks the eastern end of Japanese section of the park and you can cross the bridge to enter the English section where the vast flat lawn opens up.

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View to the lawn in front of Taiwanese Pavilion from Shoutentei, larger of the two tea houses

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Vast and open, English section of the garden.  Bring mat and SPF 50, sun tanning is allowed