From the April/May 2019 Issue  

Arco Lamp

Writer Ren Miller

The Arco Lamp by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni. Image courtesy of Flos USA.

A street light reportedly inspired Italy’s Castiglioni brothers to design a light that is simple in shape yet complex in construction

You may have seen it in design magazines from the 1960s. Perhaps you remember it from the James Bond film Diamonds are Forever and other 1970s movies. You might even recognize it as part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

The Arco floor lamp, designed in Italy in 1962 by brothers Achille Castiglioni and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, has a split personality. It is imposing—measuring nearly 8 feet tall and 6½ feet deep—yet it nearly disappears in a room thanks to its narrow marble base and graceful sweep of a thin stainless-steel arm that ends in a globe light encased in a spun stainless-steel shade.

Achille and Pier Giacomo trained as architects, but Italy’s postwar economic slump left little capital for large architectural projects. Instead, many architects of the period focused on small objects such as furniture, tableware, lighting and electronic equipment. In this setting, Achille’s creative philosophy was to solve problems with his designs. His and Pier’s goal with the Arco lamp, for example, was to light a dining table without having to mount anything to the ceiling or contend with trailing wires.

Supposedly inspired by streetlights, they designed a slender steel upright that attaches to a steel arc made up of three sections of steel that telescope into each other. The sections can be adjusted to fit the size of the table (the lamp works equally well in a seating area). The steel upright and arc conceal the lamp’s wiring.

The sculptural spun steel shade at the end of the arc has holes on top so heat from the light bulb can escape, while the angle of the reflector itself can be adjusted for direct or indirect light.

To balance the sweeping arm and shade, the Castiglionis designed a heavy marble base that is a work of modern art in itself. The corners of the Carerra marble are beveled to avoid scratching legs that breeze by too close, and a strategically placed hole is sized to insert a broom handle to help lift or slide the lamp into place.

Interior designers fell in love with the lamp when it was introduced, and the Castiglionis and Flos, the lighting company that manufactures the piece, soon had a hit on their hands. The Arco’s simplicity and elegance have contributed to its continuing popularity.

Available at Design Within Reach in Paramus, New Jersey. $3,495.