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The Arco lamp design icon

The Arco lamp is a design icon that has become a milestone in the history of design, introducing, for the first time, the possibility of copyright protection for a design object, just like for a work of art.

The Arco lamp was born, in 1962, from the minds of the designer brothers Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni, for the newly established Italian company Flos. Today the object is on display at the Triennale, in the Design Museum in Milan, and at the MoMA in New York.

In those years, called theera of reconstruction, enlightened designers and entrepreneurs were striving to lead the country, also with new design objects, to a standard of living that could represent a rebirth.

Paladins of modernity, they intended to bring objects and furnishings synonymous with excellence and uniqueness into Italian homes. Among the new discoveries of those years was the use of materials such as plastic, coloured and malleable, to represent a non-conformist lifestyle.

Lampada Arco Castiglioni StileDesign stileitaliano stiledesign.it
A furnishing with Castiglioni’s Arco lamp – Photo @Noahhoward by Wikimedia Commons (CC BY SA 4.0)

From inspiration to birth: versatility and simplicity

As is well known, winning ideas are often born from simplicity. The story goes that the Castiglioni brothers, crossing an ordinary street in an Italian city (probably Milan), took inspiration from a street lamp. Arco was designed to project light from above, without the need to hang a chandelier from the ceiling or place something bulky on a table.

Thus the lamp was born, with a great vocation for suspension and precision, from the idea of always having a‘suspended‘ point of light, with no constraints of space or bulk. It could illuminate any other part of the furniture simply by moving it.

The structure of the Arco lamp

We are talking about a floor lamp, where a 65 kg Carrara marble parallelepiped acts as a pedestal. That base, with rounded corners, supports a stem, formed of threesteel profiles, with a U-shaped section, which adjusts the width of the arm and the height of the light source.

At the end of the arch is the dome-shaped cap. A perforated cap on which rests an aluminium ring, which can be adjusted.

Profilo lampada Arco
The profile of the Arcoi lamp – Image by Andrea Pavanello by Wikemedia (Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Italy)

The base has a through-hole with a circular cross-section, which allows a guide-stick (e.g. the handle of a broom) to be inserted inside to ‘manoeuvre’ the object. In fact, the lamp was initially designed more for a restaurant or a commercial establishment, rather than as a piece of furniture for a private home or study.

Over the years, the Arco lamp has not undergone any aesthetic or design changes. The marble base was available in two versions (also black), while now it is only produced in white.

A special edition for the 60th anniversary of the Arco lamp

In 2022, Flos decided to launch Arco Ka limited edition of the Castiglioni brothers’ lamp. For this limited etidion, the marble of the base was replaced by a transparent material that could show its inner mechanics: lead-free crystal.

It was also a limited edition in the availability of pieces: only 2022 numbered.

The focus on innovation that Flos dedicates to the uniqueness of its works is also underlined by the application of an encrypted NFT traceability system to these unique pieces.

Victories and Awards

Design copyright

The Arco lamp, among the most imitated and plagiarised, was the protagonist of a controversy in 2006, which led the Court of Milan to grant copyright protection to design works for the first time. Taking on a character akin to a work of art, it brought copyright into the world of industrial production.

Lampioni di Milano StileDesign stileitaliano stiledesign.it
Milan’s street lamps: inspiration for the Arco lamp. Photo by Victor Lucas by Pexels

A legal action saw Flos sue Semeraro Casa e Famiglia spa for a lamp identical to the one created by the Castiglioni brothers (albeit produced in China and named Fluida). Thanks to the ruling, Flos obtained the seizure of Fluida and succeeded in preventing any further importation and sale of the ‘twin’ lamp.

From that point in time began the protection of design works in our country, as a result of the copyright law, which protects from imitation designs that ‘present creative character and artistic value in themselves’.

The Compasso d’Oro Career Award for Flos

The ADI Compasso D’Oro alla Carriera awards organisations, companies and personalities in Italy who have distinguished themselves in the fields of design, research, teaching, production or distribution.

In 2020, Flos was awarded the Compasso D’Oro alla Carriera. It was recognised as one of the most ingenious and timeless objects, important and revolutionary in scope.

In the same year, Arrangements, the modular, geometrically shaped LED lamps created by designer Michael Anastassiades, also won the prestigious award, confirming Flos as one of the most innovative, revolutionary and influential companies in the world of design.

Camilla Pieri

@Stiledesign. Reproduction reserved

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