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.
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.
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