Diabolo by Achille Castiglioni
‘My father was a really, really good Diabolo player’, says Giovanna Castiglioni, daughter of legendary Italian designer Achille Castiglioni. She’s discussing one of his favorite pastimes—the juggling game, derived from a Chinese yo-yo, in which an hourglass-shaped object is spun back and forth on a string between two sticks. In 1998 the age-old balancing act served as inspiration for Achille’s final collaboration with Flos—an adjustable pendant lamp with the same name
Designer Achille Castiglioni
From a conversation with Giovanna Castiglioni
Photography Santi Caleca, Piero Fasanotto, Ramak Fazel, Hugh Findletar, Federico Torra
‘It’s a very simple design’, Giovanna explains of the light, originally modeled in paper, then cardboard, before being realised in white, powder coated aluminum. ‘A hanging lamp composed of two cones—one contains the light source; the other, fixed to the ceiling, conceals a spool mechanism’. Much like the game that inspired its name, Achille imagined a light that could move up and down via pulley system, so that the user could adjust its height to their preference by extending or shortening the distance between the two cones. Some originals still hang in the Castiglioni studio today.
Achille didn’t elaborate much on his inspiration, but the ideas embedded in Diabolo had been in the Castiglioni vocabulary for decades. When Achille and his brother Pier Giacomo started designing together in the 1950s, an anonymous cone-shaped task lamp used for scenography hung in their work room. (In 1962 they moved it to the meeting room in what is now the Achille Castiglioni Foundation). Giovanna traces the conical shapes of Diabolo back to this inspiration, explaining the brothers’ interest in such functional, anonymous designs.
The pulley was also something Achille and Pier Giacomo had explored in depth—hoping to create pulley systems for other pendant lamps like the 1962-designed Relemme and the 1961-designed Splugen Brau. Both are shown with pulleys, alongside Diabolo, in the sketch shown here.
‘They liked to group a lot of lamps together and find different lines; different levels’, explains Giovanna. ‘Achille wanted to hide the pulley but to give you the invitation to move the light up and down; to choose the height you want’.
The public response to the 1998 debut was positive: ‘As usual, one is surprised by the light ‘Castiglioni’ touch’, Domus reported that year. ‘With a sure hand, he methodically demonstrates the inexhaustible resources of what is right in front of our noses’. But after just five years on the market, technical difficulties with the pulley system, caused production to stop.
Achille imagined a light that could move up and down via pulley system, so that the user could adjust its height to their preference by extending or shortening the distance between the two cones. Some originals still hang in the Castiglioni studio today.
But now, more than twenty years after its introduction, Diabolo returns, with the mechanical kinks worked out and in two new colours—cherry red, and beaver brown—hues Achille used in some of his pottery. The design has been ever-so-slightly changed (all the tweaks are internal), while leaving that ‘light Castiglioni touch’ totally intact.