Giovanna and Achille Castiglioni, Courtesy Fondazione Achille Castiglioni

Giovanna Castiglioni talks about how the Fondazione Castiglioni is also a place designed for children

, July 28, 2021

During the Summer Escapes camps we focused on the fact that an object can't speak, but it can keep us company. It inhabits the world and seems to be at ease with it. So we wondered what story it would tell if it could talk about everything around it. Even though an object has no voice of its own, it can sometimes speak about us, and about me. Without needing to be a mirror, it may just be able to reproduce our reflection and tell our story. Maybe not all of it, but certainly a very important part of it.

 

Giovanna Castiglioni, the "custodian" of the Fondazione Achille Castiglioni, accompanied us on this journey. Who better than her could have accompanied us in a present that is really a bridge between past and future? She took the children into a magical world, full of books, projects, drawings, objects... each one with a story to tell. And since each object is a treasure trove of stories and tales, why not try and imagine new ones through the eyes and ideas of the children themselves, accompanied by Giovanna’s words and vision?

Giovanna Castiglioni, Courtesy Fondazione Achille Castiglioni

Courtesy Fondazione Achille Castiglioni
Courtesy Fondazione Achille Castiglioni

Entering the Foundation make you feel like you're going into a toy shop: springs, balls that open and close like dandelion heads, stools with elongated shapes, benches that give you wonderful changes of perspective... It seems that every object Achille designed started with a game. Is that really how it was?

To some extent, but not entirely. On the one hand, it was like that, because Achille was a really playful person and he took a lot from play to make lightness a cornerstone of his approach to design. On the other, there's the whole question of how design relates to function, with a specific objective and the solution for a problem. If you always aim to solve a problem, you need to be very practical. The playful aspect comes as a result. Taking things lightly does not, however, mean failing to do them as rigorously as possible. It means finding the right balance between play – in the sense of lightness – and design, the aim of which remains that of solving a problem. One can remain tied to the concept of play in many ways: it can be a source of inspiration for choosing an interesting or amusing name, but one can also start out from the mechanism of a toy to design a new object. Achille really was just like a little boy: he managed to make use of this link with childhood, without letting himself be influenced too much by the outside world. This playful aspect was like a sort of liberation for Castiglioni.

You seem to have lots of fun when you take your visitors around, be they children or adults. It's a divertissement for you. If we stop and think about the origin of the word, which comes from the Latin divertere, it gives us the idea of a diversion, of moving away from what most people see as the best way forward. How much of this is true in the case of Achille's life as a designer?

Achille managed to create his designs while keeping at bay those issues that might have worn them down. He designed with the intention of solving a problem. I've been asked so many times if Achille was a functionalist, or if he studied the ergonomics for each project. No, he was a very practical man and his designs came from his sense of practicality. He used to have fun, but this divertissement of his was not a way of abandoning the classic approach to design, because he was ultimately designing for a particular use, with no superfluous decoration. There were no frills in Castiglioni's designs, no additions, never any overload of components.

Giovanna Castiglioni

"[When a child says] ‘he made an ashtray from a spring? That's brilliant, isn't it?!’". That’s a statement that’s as simple as can be. Through it, you see that one thing leads to another, as Munari might say, so you can transform a ball that opens up like a star into a lamp."

Courtesy Fondazione Achille Castiglioni
Courtesy Fondazione Achille Castiglioni

You could say that every object is time in condensed form - both the time that preceded it (previous experience and knowledge) and that of the future, for it brings with it a vision that is also a hope. As you see it, how should the two be balanced? Is there an object designed by Achille in which this relationship between past and future is ideally balanced?

There certainly is. But first I'd like to say that, when I started working at the Foundation, I didn't know about the world of design and I had to study it from scratch, so I've always felt myself to be on a sort of bridge between past and future. It's as though I were halfway across: on the one hand, there was this past that was always fascinating, because every design is ultimately a story. It was like finding myself with an enthralling book to read all in one go. On the other hand, I found I could project Castiglioni's work into the near future, in which today's designers tackle the needs of what is to come. The fact of being between past and future is interesting, because it means you're in the middle. You try to look at the world with your eyes towards the future, but you have a solid background thanks to the important past left by Achille and the other masters of design.  

One of the works that gave us the greatest satisfaction was that of putting Papà's last project into production. This, in my opinion, is what best represents the combination of past, present, and future. 

In 2001 he designed a set of pens and pencils, but was not able to put it into production. He had designed an instrument from the past, the Lapis, the ultimate pencil, used for centuries by designers and creatives. The three-lobed wooden model was made by Pierluigi Ghianda, who pointed out to Castiglioni how complex it would be to manufacture. So Castiglioni decided to stop looking for a company that could make it. Once again, Achille believed that the times were not yet ready for his design. In his vision, a design can remain as it is until the conditions are ripe for it to be produced. 

Twenty years later, thanks to the assistance of Gianfranco Cavaglià, who worked for a long time with Achille Castiglioni and who codesigned this writing set (the author of the book "by" Achille Castiglioni published by Maurizio Corraini Edizioni), my brother Carlo and I went back to the project and found Ego.M, a start-up in Bologna, who created Papà's pencil using a 3-D printer. Graphene, the material we chose together with them, gives an even greater idea of the future. Instead of using moulds to make a plastic pen, we decided to be bold and we made a pencil using its own heart - graphite. Like this we made an object that accepts no compromises. It will never be pink or green or yellow. 

It's a pencil made of pencil. It goes to the core. 

I don't know how much Achille would have liked this product, but it certainly brings together past, present and future, because it's the last sign he left us. It really is symbolic. But he left it delicately, and we ourselves felt in no rush to put it into production. We thought long and hard about the choice of material and about how it would be produced, but without making any changes to the design: if you look at Ghianda's wooden prototypes and at the pencils made by Ego.M, you won't notice any difference. The coloured accessories will now be coming, so they will become real writing instruments.

We've decided not to make the special fountain pen, with a one-thousand-euro price tag because it bears Castiglioni's name, but rather to continue along the line of democratic design, which can enter many people's homes, as objects for everyone. When we put one of Castiglioni's objects into production, we feel we're the ones responsible and we try to talk with the company to make sure the product is reasonably priced (though we don't always succeed: some have taken on a life of their own and we can't do anything about the price).

Courtesy Fondazione Achille Castiglioni
Courtesy Fondazione Achille Castiglioni

You often work with adults, less with children. During the week when you first took us round the Foundation and then came to design with children, what were the main differences you noticed?

What I like doing on a guided tour is, as much as possible, to encourage grown-ups to go back to being children. Working with adults is more tiring, of course, because they are always too tied up in their own preconceptions and prejudices. When they come to the Foundation, the most difficult thing for me is to free them from the complexities of life and show them that Castiglioni's design is easy. Children, on the other hand, are disarming, because they already understand these things, since they don't have such mental superstructures. When children come to the Foundation, they give answers and see the objects without preconceptions and prejudices. They're clean and pure, like sponges that absorb the information and spit it out with incredible ease. They also have no prior knowledge, in the sense that they don't know who Castiglioni is. On the guided tours I do with adults, I almost never say I'm the daughter, because otherwise they'd immediately go on the defensive. But what's really great is that a child sees the light-hearted way that Achille created his designs. They see the fun that’s in all his creations, from the mayonnaise spoon to the lamp. Working with children can be more tiring, because you have a responsibility to talk about design in a simple way, but actually it's not difficult with Achille, because you never need to look for ulterior motives or philosophise about his objects. But then again, children give you replies that are quite disarming. They're always right. When a child says: "He made an ashtray from a spring? That's brilliant, isn't it?!". That’s a statement that’s as simple as can be. Through it, you see that one thing leads to another, as Munari might say, so you can transform a ball that opens up like a star into a lamp. Why not? That's it: if we can manage to help children see design like this, we'll be creating a generation of inquisitive, open-minded kids. 

A bit like what happened to us, Achille's children, when we saw Bruno Munari playing with bits of wood and asked him what he was doing - and he enthralled us with the way he had of adoring all the things around him. It's an amazing lesson, and even more so now that we have so many overloaded things, often unbearably weighed down. 

So long live kids!

Hoberman sphere, Courtesy Fondazione Achille Castiglioni
Hoberman sphere, Courtesy Fondazione Achille Castiglioni
Taraxacum, Courtesy Fondazione Achille Castiglioni
Taraxacum, Courtesy Fondazione Achille Castiglioni
Spirale Slinky, Courtesy Fondazione Achille Castiglioni
Spirale Slinky, Courtesy Fondazione Achille Castiglioni
Spirale, Achille Castiglioni per Alessi, 1970 © Triennale Milano
Spirale, Achille Castiglioni per Alessi, 1970 © Triennale Milano

Credits

The Triennale Milano Summer Escapes summer camps are also made possible thanks to the support of Scalo Milano.

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