The Arco Lamp was designed in 1962 by Italian designer Achille Castiglioni and his architect brother Pier Giacomo Castiglioni for leading lighting company Flos. Achille’s approach to design was to problem solve issues that the consumer perhaps didn’t even realise were there. In the case of the Arco Lamp, he achieved an overhead light that circumvented the need for ceiling wiring, so that it could be used anywhere.
The lamp’s design was heavily influenced by the Castiglioni brothers’ interest in ready-mades; using found, already existing objects and recontextualising them in combinations that allowed them to perform new functions. Whilst it may appear simplistic in form, its engineering is comparatively complex.
“We thought of a lamp that projected the light on the table: there were some already, but we had to turn around them. In order to leave space around the table, the base had to be at least two meters away. This is how the idea of the arch was born: we wanted to do it with products that were already on the market, and we found that the bent steel section went very well.” – Achille Castiglioni
Castiglionis’ Arco Lamp is the first arc-shaped lamp in the history of design. The base is made from a parallelepiped-shaped piece of Carrara marble, with a hole bored through it horizontally. Whilst aesthetically pleasing, the marble’s weight is key to the lamp’s stability, and the hole exists so that a broom handle can be inserted through it to allow two people to lift and move its 65kg weight.
“Then there was the problem of the counterweight: it needed a heavy mass that supported everything. We thought of the cement first, but then we chose the marble because, at the same weight, it allowed a smaller size and therefore in relation to a greater finish a lower cost.” – Achille Castiglioni
The lamp’s signature arc is constructed from three curvilinear steel sections, which also act as a channel for the electrical cable, taking it from the base to the semispherical lamp holder, which is situated two metres away. The lamp holder’s punched holes transcend the decorative too – they exist to ventilate the lamp and ensure it doesn’t overheat.
Before his death in 2002, Achille deplored the “professional disease of taking everything too seriously” and declared that one of his secrets was to joke all the time. This sense of humour can be seen running through much of the Castiglioni brothers’ design work, such as his Sella Stool, which uses a bicycle saddle as its seat, or the Snoopy Table Lamp, which is reminiscent of the popular Peanuts character.
His clever, avant-garde approach to design has been likened to Dadaism by some, whilst others cite him as an early post-Modernist. Whether one sees his sense of humour, or the sincerity of his good design in his work (or both), Achille’s creations will continue to long out-live him the art and design world. Today, the Arco Lamp is part of the permanent collections of the Triennale museum in Milan and the MoMA in New York, and the Castiglioni brothers are considered some of the most important Italian designers and architects of all time.