Many ahead-of-their-time designers had to wait for technological breakthroughs to realize the inventions they dreamt up on paper. Charles and Ray Eames had to develop the machinery and processes to produce a molded plywood chair that would be as comfortable as an upholstered perch; Diller, Scofidio + Renfro and Rockwell Group are currently constructing an arts center based on a radical, shapeshifting 1960s building concept; and science fiction recently became fact when the startup Scanadu turned a medical gadget that appeared on Star Trek into a real product.
Now, the increasing prevalence of LED lighting has brought to fruition a "failed" table lamp concept originally designed in the 1950s by Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni—two of Italy's greatest design legends.
The Castiglioni brothers made their first prototype for the Taccia lamp in 1958. Seeking to design a piece that would provide ambient—as opposed to focused—lighting, they fashioned a shade out of plastic and set it atop a corrugated metal base that would help disperse the lightbulb's heat. It turned out that the bulb still became too hot below the plastic and actually melted the shade, so they opted to make it out of aluminum and glass for the final design, which entered production in 1962.
In a 1986 lecture, Achille Castiglioni said of the move to glass: "When we had this nice unveiling and put the object there, the heated plastic material went flat, and so our design was completely wrong. Yes, it was totally wrong because only when we tested the materials could we see that [the plastic] returned from the shape we had given it to its original shape, which was that of a flat sheet. So we made it from glass."
In the quest for more energy-efficient illumination in the decades since, LEDs have become a favorite light source for their longevity, low power consumption, and small size. High-end lighting companies have adapted, too. For example, Flos—an Italian lighting manufacturer known for working with design heavyweights like Philippe Starck, the Bouroullecs, and Patricia Urquiola—has steadily updated some of its classic models, including the Taccia, to use LEDs rather than incandescent bulbs.
The company first adapted the design for LEDs back in 2010. But after revisiting its archives of design patents and drawings—which it does periodically to uncover more about the conceptual underpinnings of famous products—Flos decided to see if it could bring the Castiglionis's original vision to fruition, since LEDs don't emit much heat. Motivated by fidelity to the original design intent, the manufacturer set out to see how it could harness new materials and processes that have come into play since the original design debuted.
Part of the challenge was making a plastic diffuser that would be as transparent as glass, but wouldn't degrade over time. Some plastics yellow as they age because of UV rays, but the material FLOS chose—PMMA, the same material in Plexiglass—doesn't. Meanwhile, laser-cutting allowed the company to seamlessly trim off excess material from the injection-molding process.
In addition to being less breakable, acrylic is cheaper, which translates into a lower sticker price for the new Taccia option. While Flos says cost wasn't a motivation—it was a desire to be more faithful to the designers' original vision—it's hard to ignore the $1,000 difference in price. Though it's still squarely a luxury product, the move makes the design slightly more accessible, some consumers will surely rejoice in saving a few simoleons.
The acrylic version of the Taccia LED runs $1,795 and launches in September; the glass LED version is $2,995. Find them both at Flos.