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Design decoded: ‘BulbO57’ by Achille & Pier Giacomo Castiglioni for Flos

The radically simple pendant created for the 1957 Triennale exhibition in Milan has been reissued for the first time, thanks to the latest LED technology

bulbo57 by achille castiglioni for flos

Giovanna Castiglioni has a box of tricks in front of her that would rival that of a magician. Switches, lighting components, old reels of 8mm film, an eclectic collection of wacky spectacles – it’s as if a part of the studio of her late father, the celebrated designer Achille Castiglioni, has been transported straight to London. We’re at lighting showroom Atrium, ahead of a special evening with Giovanna who is curator of the Studio Museum Castiglioni in Milan and vice president of the Fondazione Achille Castiglioni, to launch one of the designer’s little-known works, the ‘Bulbo57’, now reissued by Flos.

achille castiglioni in his studio in piazza castello 27, milan hanging on top one of the original bulbo lamps
Fondazione Achille Castiglioni

Created in collaboration with brother Pier Giacomo for the1957 XI Triennale in Milan, the pendant was strikingly forward-thinking for its time. ‘Their idea was to try and reduce a light to the essential elements, so you have the bulb, an electric socket outside – not very safe – and that’s it. They wanted to see if it was possible to put something like this into production, but at the time it was really hard, so it remained a prototype for many, many years. Now LED technology has made it possible,’ explains Giovanna.

giovanna castiglioni with a bulbo lamp at fondazione achille castiglioni flos lighting
Giovanna Castiglioni with a Bulbo lamp at Fondazione Achille Castiglioni
Ramak Fazel

While industrial-style naked bulbs are ubiquitous today, it was a bold concept in the late 1950s, and one that the Castiglionis were fascinated by: ‘Achille designed a lot of lamps with this old-style bulb, which has a nice warm light that feels alive. The updated version stays true to this– the filament has exactly the same warm glow and a similar shape – it’s a good balance of the past and the future.’

Her father would have approved of this attention to detail, she says. ‘He had a great sense of humour but he was always very precise – he was really focused on people, light and space – just a few important ingredients. This is why he was so lucky with his partnership with Flos; lighting is the perfect meeting of these three elements.’ Now that LED technology has the potential to revive previously unfeasible designs, others may soon come to light, so to speak. Giovanna and the Fondazione Achille Castiglioni are working with Flos to revisit the archives and explore the possibilities of bringing to life other models.

bulbo lamps by achille castiglioni for flos
Ramak Fazel
bulbo lamps by achille castiglioni for flos
Ramak Fazel

Although the ‘Bulbo57’ pendant was never manufactured during his lifetime, Castiglioni was clearly fond of his creation. After the exhibition in 1957, two lamps were hung in his studio and four were installed in the family home (above), where they still hang (and where Giovanna lives) to this day. ‘I grew up with a lot of lamps, of course, but “Bulbo” is amazing,’ confides Giovanna. Surely the ultimate seal of approval. flos.com

This article appeared in ELLE Decoration June 2020 issue

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