This year marks the 100th birthday of Achille Castiglioni, the Italian architect and designer who received the Compasso d’Oro award seven times, is remembered for iconic designs like the Mezzadro stool, Arco lamp and Sella Stool, and for his many anonymous objects too (a simple light switch is one example), for innovative and highly popular teaching methods, Patricia Urquiola was one of his students and later taught alongside him, and for his writing that included a piece on 'How to be a good designer' – a process for Achille that was always about curiosity.
To celebrate the centenary of his birth, the Achille Castiglioni Foundation has launched a year-long program of exhibitions and events that coincide with Milan Design Week the world's biggest designer meet-up. more space caught up with the director of the foundation, Achille's daughter Giovanna Castiglioni, to find out what we can look forward to during the 'year of Achille'.
MS: Great to speak with you again Giovanna, tell us about the events you have planned this year to celebrate your father's centenary.
GC: Two weeks ago we presented the exhibition '100x100 Achille' at the foundation featuring 100 objects signed by 100 anonymous designers. It was a present for my father! We had a very big party for him with more than 450 people in the studio. The idea was to highlight the 1,000-plus anonymous objects that Achille collected in his life. We received a lot of presents, more than 100, but also all the designers were here so it was very nice and a lot of fun.
Once the show has closed at the end of April, it he will travel across Italy – Venice, Bergamo, Puglia, and other areas in southern Italy. Some of the designers were keen to take the exhibition across the country so we are choosing special places because the show is small and we don't necessarily want to be in big museums. We are also working on travelling the exhibition around the world.
How did the idea for the '100x100 Achille' show develop?
It is the first exhibition that I have been involved with from the start. As you know the anonymous object was a favourite of my fathers so my idea was to develop that and invite 100 designers to choose an object for Achille. We have gift cards from all of the designers too, more than 100, some of them are related to the objects, the presents, and some of them have really wonderful notes. It is a very emotional exhibition when you are here in the studio. I share the story of each present, so we are now looking at how we can explain those stories when the show is in another city.
How many of the guests at the launch in Milan had personally known Achille?
Actually quite a lot. Alessandro Mendini, Michele De Lucchi and Andrea Branzi. Also young designers including Lorenzo Damiani who met my father a long time ago. We selected both established designers and young designers, Italians and foreigners. It was really nice because we received objects from Marcel Wanders, Jasper Morrison, Philippe Starck, and many others. Both Philippe and Jasper met my father, and also Konstantin Grcic who was also here. To have all of them together was really incredible.
What did Jasper Morrison give Achille, his philosophy is also focused on the anonymous object?
A stapler. Both anonymous and very useful.
Out of all the presents, what was the most unusual?
A few items designed for magicians which is unusual for us but my father loved tricky objects so much. Another designer gave us 20 Euros. It's an object in a sense and it was an anonymous object. However to me an anonymous object means something related to functionality, or a daily object, so 20 Euros is quite unusual.
I can see quite a few funny objects too...
One designer gave us a water bomb filler with all the balloons (laughter). Marcel Wanders sent a very colourful paper festoon, and we also received a few spinning tops. There is also a magical water jug which I like to play with when we have visitors. It is really tricky.
Do you have a favourite?
I love all of them and some of the objects are very special. One designer gave us a balloon which is a very metaphysical object. It can fly away, it is something related to childhood and it is really light.
That is a good example of the sometimes hidden narrative behind things.
Yes, you can also read this exhibition in different layers. One layer is the common object that is very useful, you have another layer regarding the passion of the designer and what they chose for Achille, and then you have another layer that looks at why they chose one object over another. So it's really nice that you can read this exhibition in different ways. The name of the exhibition is '100x100 Achille' so it is like 100 per cent Achille. His philosophy was always to collect objects and to be curious. I think you can find inspiration in every object.
Tell me about the other events you are planning.
We have divided the year into four parts. The first is 1'00x100 Achille', we will also present another exhibition originally designed by Achille in 1984 in Tokyo. That show will open at the foundation on May 25 and run until December. At the same moment in Switzerland, we will have a show at the Mats Museum that is dedicated to the graphic designer Mats Suber who had a wonderful friendship with my father. So we want to present their relationship between graphics and design, and architecture and exhibition design by Achille. So a good mix between Achille and Mats Suber. Then at the Triennial in Milan we will work with Patricia Urquiola and her team on a big retrospective. I don't think it is possible in one year, in one exhibition, to present all the complete works of Achille, so we have divided his method into four parts.
It must be exciting to be collaborating with the designers who also collaborated with your father.
Yes. There is also another exhibition in the planning at the Steinhof Design Museum in Hannover, Germany. They were here a few days ago to make a film about the studio and about me and my brother Carlo. We will not be involved in planning that exhibition, it is too much for us! I think it will launch next May.
Students have always been a big part of Achille's studio, and he was such a popular teacher, tell me about the student programs.
This is another dream for me to ask different students to bring a present for Achille. They have a different perspective about daily objects because they are millennials. They are young and probably for them an anonymous object is completely different to a screwdriver or scissors. So we have asked the Politecnico in Milano, the school where Achille taught, to make a project during Milan Design Week where students present a little exhibition about Castiglioni's methods. We will work with the professors to select the final objects. It will be very interesting.
For you personally, what is the most important part of the year's celebrations?
I think it is really nice and really important that we continue to share Achille's work and ideas with many people across many different ages. I love the different generations so much. I am in the middle of the older generation who met my father, and I am always halfway along that bridge. I continue to see and share stories with young people who are very curious and I am very happy about that. I want to bring Achille to people on another level. My father was a normal man who enjoyed his life and objects very much . I want people to open their eyes and open their minds, to be curious. Life is short, be brave!
Thank you Giovanna, have a fantastic year celebrating Achille.
To keep updated on all the 100-year celebrations at Foundation Achille Castiglioni and museums around the world, visit the website here. The '100x100 Achille' exhibition will be on show at the foundation during Milan Design Week 2018.
Giovanna Castiglioni presented her first international talk on Achille Castiglioni, his work and the Foundation Achille Castiglioni, in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in 2010, the tour was organised and supported by Space – Australia.