The Castiglioni brothers rightly earned their place in the annals of great Italian design.
Legends of design history, during their long careers they left their mark and imprint on very different chapters of Italian history. Proof of their importance can be seen in their presence in design museums around the world and the many Compasso d’Oro prizes that they won.
Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni were born in Milan in 1918 and 1913. Together with brother Livio (1911-1979), they were closely dedicated to their design work from a young age, researching new forms, techniques and materials. As a partnership, Achille and Pier Giacomo designed objects for companies such as Kartell, Zanotta, FLOS, Bernini, Siemens and Knoll, among others. Their collaboration with Brionvega came about thanks to brother Livio, already a design consultant with the Brion company and also responsible for the Zanuso/Sapper duo’s involvement with the brand. The Castiglioni brothers designed a handful of objects for Brionvega in these years.
The fame and mythical status of one of these products, an icon of 20th century design, remains intact to this day.
The Musical Robot
“The rr126 stereophonic radiofonografo, a mobile and modular musical robot of expressive physiognomy, would enjoy an exceptional reputation for its ease of use, playful formal sobriety and rigorous details, becoming a classic of its time”.
Polano S. Achille Castiglioni. Tutte le opere Mondadori Electa 2018
In 1965, the Castiglioni brothers design the rr126 radiofonografo. A modular game that can be reconfigured, each time, as required.
The radiofonografo is also the result of Livio’s conception of the design of the radio device: a die-cast aluminium pedestal, the result of a collaboration with modeller Giovanni Sacchi, supports a series of cubes that contain the electronic components, controls, phonograph and loudspeakers; the functional separation of the components and the positioning of the loudspeakers to enhance the stereophonic effect is the key that allows the Castiglioni brothers to achieve a device in line with the emerging Hi-Fi philosophy. The design of the controls, frequency dials, buttons and potentiometers take on the appearance of a face with marked eyebrow arches and speakers in place of ears. A domesticated, anthropomorphic technology in the form of friendly face that increases the user’s confidence with the object.
Playfulness and irony in the design of the Castiglioni brothers
In a 1992 interview, Achille Castiglioni explained that for him creativity meant “…being attentive to people’s behaviour, to how they receive and transmit communication”. Irony, inquisitiveness, playfulness are all traits of Castiglioni design to be understood from the perspective of communication.
Through the disorientation caused by the unusual use of traditional forms, say Achille and Pier Giacomo, “we seek to establish a communicative relationship with the observer that solicits his or her ability to form a deep understanding of the object, going beyond formal appearances… creating a relationship of mutual curiosity”.
For the Castiglioni brothers, getting the user to ask the questions what is it? and what is it for? was a way of bringing the object closer to them and vice versa since we are only able to start understanding something that is unfamiliar to us when we ask ourselves about the nature, purpose and meaning of that unknown item.
Hence the irony of Castiglioni design, which rather than ridiculing aims to put up a caricatural mirror to the user, their expectations and desires.
Design therefore also becomes a satire of the world of consumption and Castiglioni objects (see for example Ventosa, Spalter, Sella, Toio) become caricature artists in the comedy of everyday life.
Towards humanoid design
The Castiglioni brothers’ taste for satire and caricature results in the robotic anthropomorphism of the radiofonografo, which manages to anticipate by several decades the totemic appearance of both the Memphis objects and the ‘personal’ computers of the 1980s: genuine androids designed to assist us in our everyday lives.
The personalism of technology, now an intimate part of people’s lives, was already part of the Castiglioni concept of a technology and an object that would keep people company, that they could relate to, that they could look in the face only to feel the strange distancing effect of seeing their reflection in the smiling face of a robot.
Years later, when Apple tried and succeeded in putting a personal computer in every American’s home, it was no accident that it built the computer in the likeness of a friendly Cyclops who watches and greets the user with his watchful and enigmatic 9-inch eye.
People’s relationship with objects was the future of design and the Castiglioni brothers had understood this.
And it is therefore in this relationship that the secret of the radiofonografo is to be found. In its gaze and in the various different two-way games that it creates at both technological/design and user level: the listener and the machine, the music and the player, the stereophonic sound and the twin speakers which can move independently, and not least the two-way game visible in the harmonious work of Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni which results in the formal happiness of this iconic musical machine, a little bit spatial and a little bit robotic.
The Castiglioni brothers’ classic radiofonografo gets a new lease of life today thanks to our group: an organisation founded with the aim of giving new life and dignity to certain iconic pieces of Italian design.
A playful and complicit concept design that inspires a performance and a playful approach to the object, making it possible to establish an intimate relationship with this classic piece.
Much loved by David Bowie, who kept a special version of it in his home, the radiofonografo was born from Achille Castiglioni’s personal conviction that ‘Objects must keep you company’. The re-edition of the rr126 radiofonografo is our tribute to the world’s most famous sound design.
With FM/AM radio, Bluetooth connection via external device, Pro-Ject turntable with Ortofon stylus and the possibility of adding external monitors, the Brionvega radiofonografo is made from fine wood and mounted on a metal base with castors. The loudspeakers are detachable and can be configured for vintage stereophonic listening with maximum fidelity.
The Brionvega radiofonografo is available in white, red and orange as well as a limited edition version in Canaletto walnut.
A classic Italian design which, after 50 years, continues to fascinate, intrigue and delight, a true icon of interior design.