Parentesi at 50
A pencil sketch. Two great designers who worked together but never met. A 50 years old best seller, now presented in a new edition using the colors they loved. The story of Parentesi is special, and it draws from ingenuity, a pinch of magic and a lot of respect
Product Parentesi 50
Designers Achille Castiglioni & Pio Manzù
Photography Alecio Ferrari
Set Design STUDIO TESTO
Text Laura Traldi, Paolo Brambilla (Flos for Planet)
From Flos Stories Issue 4
Good design creates relationships – between people, objects, technologies. But when it allows for impossible connections to occur, it evokes the idea of magic.
It is indeed the word magic that springs to mind when thinking about the story of Parentesi, the lamp by Pio Manzù and Achille Castiglioni, produced by Flos since 1971 and presented for its 50th anniversary in the new editions Turquoise and Orange Signal. The story of Parentesi is the story of a dialogue that never happened, a story of ingenuity fueled by a passion for everyday objects, and an example of the respect that those who create should have for the creativity of others.
The story of Parentesi begins with the premature death, in 1969, of young designer Pio Manzù. A unique talent, he was the inventor of the first multi purpose vehicle and author of immortal transport icons such as the FIAT 127. Castiglioni knew his work, but the two never met. Thanks to Manzu’s widow, Castiglioni was presented with his drawings, and one caught his attention. It was a slotted, light emitting cylindrical tin resting on a rod connecting ceiling and floor: thanks to a screw, it could make a half turn, and move up, down and stop. It was the original idea behind Parentesi.
There was a lot of Manzù in that drawing, recalls Giacomo Manzoni, son of the maestro and curator of his Foundation: “his obsession with simplicity, cost reduction, everyday objects”. “The sketch had all the elements to make Castiglioni fall in love: flexibility, ready-made, lightness”, adds his daughter Giovanna Castiglioni, curator of the Achille Castiglioni Foundation.
Above all, the drawing shows potential for movement: Castiglioni wants to set it free, working closely with the Flos technicians. He replaces the rod with a metal wire that, deflected by a tube, causes friction: so the lamp stays in position without the need for a screw. The line remains in tension between a boat tensioner and a 5 kg weight.
Parentesi is light, affordable, and dynamic. Flexible and contemporary, but also timeless because it draws on the collective imagination: the light source is a simple bulb that turns 360 degrees. Above all, Parentesi is a co-design tool. “The idea was: you buy it, you mount it“, explains Giovanna. Parentesi comes in a ‘naked’ packaging, two plastic shells made in a single mold. ‘In 1965 my father used the same molding technique to make a promotional case for FIAT,’ says Giacomo. ‘The transparency of the packaging, which gives dignity
to the individual elements, references the way Manzù exhibited the mechanical parts of cars at trade fairs: on the wall, like works of art.’
Did Castiglioni know how much of Manzù’s sensitivity was in his interpretation of his project? ‘It’s impossible to say,’ says Giovanna. But Castiglioni chose to share Parentesi’s authorship with his deceased colleague, honoring the value of his intuition as much as the design and technical skill that turned it into a finished product. ‘A noble gesture that teaches respect for ideas in a world where it is often lacking,’ says Giacomo Manzù.
Respect is also reflected in the choice, made by Flos’ design curators, architects Calvi Brambilla, to draw from the imagination of both creators of Parentesi for the special edition that celebrates its 50th anniversary. The pair chose Turquoise and Signal Orange following a philological approach. ‘The first was dear to Castiglioni, who had used it for home interiors. The second was the color that Manzù used for his prototypes,’ explain the architects. ‘We applied them on the tube but also on the base, as it was colored in the original design. Even the 1970s packaging has been re-engineered and reintroduced, together with the round booklet, positioned under the base of the lamp.’
More than a nostalgic operation, this re-interpretation of the Parentesi sounds like another piece of the dialogue between design maestros: a conversation that has lasted 50 years.
Sometimes it happens that a project that is already half a century old, and about which we thought we knew everything, unexpectedly reveals qualities that we did not suspect it could have: we thought we knew Parentesi well, and instead something had escaped us.
We all know that Parentesi is a unique lamp: it is suspended, but not used as a pendant. It can be mounted in a corner of a room, instead of a floor lamp, or next to the bed, instead of a table lamp; we can unhook it from the ceiling, roll up the cable, put it in a suitcase and reassemble it in a new house with little effort.
Looking at it through today’s eyes, we realise that in a certain sense its hybrid and nomadic character interprets the fluidity of our time much better than many objects around us.
What we didn’t realise is that Parentesi, by its very nature, is also sustainable: although it is the child of an age usually associated with the waste of resources and pollution, its environmental impact is low.
First of all, its light source is one of the easiest to replace, even if today we use LED lamps with the same screw connection as in the past. Of course, the modern light bulb consumes much less and has a much longer lifetime than the old incandescent bulbs, but even if it runs out, it is always possible to change it – which is not always possible with first generation LED luminaires.
Since Parentesi is made up of only a few parts to be assembled, if you ever want to throw it away it will be easy to break it down and correctly sort the different materials for recycling. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary, only one intervention had to be made on the counterweight: instead of applying a protective rubber overmould to the metal, it is now used a block of cast iron clad in a silicone sheath, which can be separated from the core. These two materials derive from widely available resources (iron for the cast iron and silica for the silicone, respectively), and both are recyclable.
Finally, the different components of Parentesi are compacted into a small, lightweight package, so transport costs are very low. The two authors, Manzù and Castiglioni, had not foreseen that this would also reduce the environmental impact: a light package reduces the fuel consumption necessary for transport.
When we decided to reintroduce the original packaging, transparent and with a handle, we asked to use completely recycled PET derived from the recovery cycle of waste materials such as plastic bottles. By its nature, PET is perfectly recyclable, so if you don’t want to keep the Achille Castiglioni-designed packaging, just throw the two shells in the recycling bin. But, we are sure, many will jealously preserve such a beautiful box.
— Paolo Brambilla