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Let me remind you of Marcel Duchamp’s ready-made. It’s the year 1917, when the French painter with Dadaist leanings decides to put a urinal (amongst other things) on display in a museum.
This sacrilegious and iconoclastic gesture had important repercussions in the years which followed: it broke the barriers which defined what could be classed as art.
Flash forward to 40 years later. In Italy, the brothers Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni turn the seat of a tractor into a groundbreaking iconic piece: the Mezzadro stool, manufactured by Zanotta.
The same experimental approach, the same reference to everyday life, including a specific design philosophy that focuses on maximising function and reducing materials to a minimum.
To remember Achille Castiglioni on the centenary of his birth (the 16th February 1918, in Milan) means to pay tribute to his inquisitive, visionary spirit and sense of fun.
This architect and designer was the son of sculptor and the brother of two other architects. Between 1955 and 1989, he won a staggering 9 Compasso d’Oro awards for an eclectic mix of projects: the Spinamatic beer pump, the Omsa hospital bed, a headset for simultaneous translations.
And then, of course, for several pieces of furniture, which played a crucial part in shaping industrial design and which may even be considered representative of modern design as a whole.
The first event planned for the centenary is the exhibition 100x100 Achille, curated by Chiara Alessi and Domitilla Dardi. It will run from the 19th February to the 30 April at the Fondazione di piazza Castello in Milan.
There will be over 100 anonymous pieces on display chosen by the same number of international designers with the aim of extending Achille’s private collection.
Philippe Starck, to name one, has chosen a paper clip, simple yet useful in the same way as a computer.
To look back on Achille Castiglioni’s projects,, most of which were designed in collaboration with his older brother Pier Giacomo, is to paint a clear picture of modern design history. The Taccia, Snoopy and Arco lamps, as well as Toio and Parentesi designed for Flos and then again the Sella seat for Zanotta and the Dry cutlery set for Alessi.
But even an object as basic as it is universal: the popular circuit breaker light switch which enables you, guided by the electric cable, to switch on your bedside lamp without tripping over.
There’s a common thread to all his projects: the idea of an integral design which combines shape, matter and technique, generating real objects for real needs.
Not surprisingly, Achille Castiglioni considered Philippe Stark to be his spiritual son could you think of a more political, multifaceted and humoristic designer?