The Arco lamp from Achille Castiglioni and Co. is definitely at the top of the list when it comes to MCM icons that are from Europe, but not from Scandinavia. First manufactured by Flos in 1963, it was the first floor lamp with an arch for a neck, and probably the first with a rectangular block of pure marble as its base.
We wanted to talk a little more about its history, especially since we recently wrote about its role on the first lawsuit of this decade against mid-century modern furniture replicas.
Castiglioni was an innovator and a designer who enjoyed playing while working. He also related to the notion of Good Design, always carefully observing the world around him. The Arco Lamp is apparently modeled on a streetlight he or one of his brothers might have passed on the way home, a streetlight that gave off a powerful light in more than one direction.
Inspired by this beam, they set out to create an object that could emulate this feeling inside a house.
This quest resulted not only in the Arco Lamp but also a wide variety of objects creating by taking something from other objects that seem mundane and design-less, in a way. Another one of the brothers’ famous lamps was the Toio floor lamp, which was inspired by a car headlight.
Building a European icon of mid-century modernism
The shape of an arch reminds us of triumphal arches in Ancient Rome, which can make you wonder if that’s the reason they had chosen it for this lamp. It turns out, however, that the answer is much more logical: The Arco Lamp is meant to light up an entire room, the way a streetlight would, but it can’t be fixed, or it wouldn’t be innovative.
People in Italy already had chandeliers —the idea was for the Arco Lamp to become a new kind of lighting source.
This new type of floor lamp was also inspired by Milanese tradition: The Castiglioni brothers wanted a lamp that could be adjusted to always illuminate the center of a very special place in the home: the dining table.
Eating at home (and with family) is very important in Italian culture. We believe this combination of factors is what made it quickly popular around Italy, and then the entire world.
However, some of you might still ask: how is it possible that a lamp that has a literal block of marble, weighing 141 lbs (63 kg), has gotten this iconic? We’ll admit that it seems contradictory.
Most people today will throw around the cliché phrase “it’s got to be carried by two people with a broomstick” when talking about the Arco floor lamp. Why do most of them still want to own one?
Simplicity breeds perfection
The writer of this article has never lifted an Arco Lamp, but he’s seen a lot of people doing it —and it doesn’t seem to be that hard. It does require two people to carry, but the weight allows for any kind of person to lift it with a partner.
You don’t need to be extremely strong. The marble block also fulfills a very important role, one that might not be noticeable unless you see the lamp in person.
The arc of the lamp is extremely long, extending up to 78 inches (two meters) to allow for the head to hang as an overhead light. This is not an easy feat to pull off. An arc this large and heavy had to be sustained by something that would completely prevent it from tipping over.
The Castiglioni brothers considered using concrete at first but ultimately decided on marble. The latter would take much less space, and it would provide the lamp with a very luxurious finish.
The fact that the floor lamp is 60% marble might have something to do with its popularity as well: the material is not cheap, but it isn’t the most expensive either. The history behind it, like gold and silver, is what makes it so coveted.
Should I get an Arco Lamp myself?
That’s the question of the day for you. Imagine how it would look on your living space, how many qualities it could bring to the décor. It is easy to forget that it was designed for a home environment because it can seem too overwhelming.
If you’re looking to get yourself an Arco Lamp, you’ll probably end up buying a replica. Here are a few pointers you should keep in mind: first, make sure the base is actual marble, as heavy as described here.
Second, the base’s corners should not be sharp, as per the original design. Third, the arc’s tube should be square-shaped, not cylindrical, and fourth: the lamp should have small openings at the top.
The Arco Lamp has become so iconic that many opine it has become a cliché itself. That might be true, judging by the aforementioned phrase we quoted, but it will never be a dull cliché, in our opinion. Yes, we do believe there is a distinction, especially because it is mostly about perspective.
If you think about the Arco Lamp as this opulent, unattainable icon, its presence will always surprise you in the same way, and you’ll effectively get bored of seeing it after a while.
If you look beyond its form, however, and into the simplicity of this seemingly exaggerated design, you’ll probably won’t get tired of looking at it. I actually think that Arco Lamp should be even more popular and clichéd in order to finally stop being a cliché.
We wish for the Arco lamp to fulfill its intended purpose, in our opinion: to watch over us silently and peacefully, like that streetlight you and I might encounter while walking somewhere at night.