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Friday Focus - FLOS Arco Floor Lamp

How art and design combine to create a design classic

The very best design is indistinguishable from art. There are good reasons for this and they are tied up with some eternal truths about what makes us human. This is not just a matter of taste, although that comes into it. It is about the interplay of function, line, colour, texture, scale, shape and proportion. Some of the principles behind this can be taught, but others are instinctive, often tapping into our most primeval urges and instincts. In other words, we recognise beauty when we see it and we often experience it at a visceral level.

Design has one facet that art cannot claim to boast and that is in its functionality. That is not to say that art does not have purpose, but that it need not have any function but its beauty. Good design has to combine that with specific functionality, as embodied in the architect Louis Sullivan’s famous maxim ‘form ever follows function’. The eternal truth of this statement is confirmed by the fact that Sullivan himself attributed the saying to the Roman architect, engineer and author Marcus Vitruvius Pollio who wrote in his book De Architectura that any well designed object must exhibit the three qualities of firmitas, utilitas, venustas – solidity, utility, beauty.

That is why products like the Flos Arco floor lamp, designed by Achille Castiglioni and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni in 1962, can seamlessly join the permanent collection at New York's Museum of Modern Art. Like many design icons, the Arco has become shorthand for a certain type of timeless cool rooted in the 1960s, appearing in movies like The Italian Job and Diamonds Are Forever as well as more recent offerings such as Iron Man.

The lamp is nearly 7 ft tall and comes with a bevelled, white Carrara marble base, and a spun aluminium arched stem providing adjustable, dimmable directional light housed in a spun aluminium reflector. In a nod to modernity, the lamp can be fitted with both incandescent and LED light fittings.

The designer of the lamp, Achille Castiglioni summed up its eternal appeal in a 1970 interview when he said: “In Arco nothing is decorative: even the bevelled corners on the base have a function, which is not to hurt us; even the hole isn’t a flight of fantasy, but to make it easier to lift the base.” 

He is simply reiterating one of the eternal truths about great design and great art. 

To find out more about the Flos Arco Floor Lamp please click here.
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