A trained geologist, Giovanna Castiglioni runs Studio Museum Achille Castiglioni in Milan, where a design icon can be found in an anonymous object.
One of Giovanna Castiglioni’s earliest recollections of living in a home filled with good design is of a fixed wooden step she had at home as a child. The step allowed her to be the same height as her father and ensured eye to eye communication. Designed by her late father Achille Castiglioni, one of Europe’s most important post-war designers, the ‘Basello’ as it’s referred to, was put into production by Zanotta. “It’s a very democratic object as it allows children and adults to share toys sitting at the same height,” says Giovanna. “It can also be used like a step, a bedside table or even a child’s desk,” she adds.
When Giovanna was a child, she was mindful of not disturbing her father in his workshop, a ten-minute drive from the family’s home in Milan. And although she was inquisitive about her father’s designs, she became a geologist rather than a designer. “My father didn’t stand in my way. He understood the importance of free choice and, like him, a career bound in passion. I’ve always been interested in nature,” says Giovanna, who studied at the University of Geology in Milan. Later she worked for a large company involved with environmental and safety issues. Giovanna’s career has moved closer to design, in particular that of her father, with the opening of Studio Museum Achille Castiglioni.
The studio, run by Giovanna; Achille’s wife, Irma; and colleagues Dianella Gobbato and Antonella Gornati (both of whom worked with Achille in the 80s), is brimming with drawings, models and prototypes. Over the past three years the studio has attracted more than 13,000 visitors. “Every day, visitors tell me stories about objects. Sometimes young designers present ideas to us in the form of sketches,” says Giovanna, who endeavours to share with them Achilles’ way of thinking during his illustrious 40-year design period.
Among the design treasures at Studio Museum Achille Castiglioni are some of the pieces Achille and his brother Pier Giacomo Castiglioni are renowned for: Arco Floor Lamp (1962), Luminator floor lamp (1955), RR126 Stereo Hi-Fi (1965) and the ingenious Mezzadro stool – a tractor-like seat designed in 1957 that explores Marcel Duchamp’s concept of the ‘ready-made’. “Some of their designs were quite inexpensive. They designed an electric switch which is easy to find in most hardware stores for around one Euro,” says Giovanna. “This democratic object wasn’t signed by them and in silence it arrived in thousands of homes,” she adds.
While the Castiglioni family home was filled with his wonderful lights, furniture and objects designed by Achille, it’s the humble switch that she draws on in recalling her father. “I remember he had one in his pocket and he was continually making ‘click-clack’ sounds with his hands,” says Giovanna.
Although Giovanna could refer to several items in her father’s studio as iconic, it’s the Arco Floor Lamp that she singles out for special attention. Featuring a white marble base, a curved stainless steel stem and polished aluminium reflector, this light, which focuses light on a table, has been photographed hanging over dining room tables around the world. The Arco is in several design museums, as well as in Giovanna’s home, hovering above a table. “I love this lamp. It was a gift from my aunt. I’m always admiring the beautiful white and grey marble base. It’s definitely the most important geological and functional stone in my home,” she adds.