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14 February 2022

Welcome back Saliscendi

A name, an idea, a unique chandelier in the history of lighting

A story of Italian excellence

© Fondazione Achille Castiglioni

Let’s take a leap back in time and more precisely to 1952 when two brothers – graduates in architecture from the Milan Polytechnic University and protagonists in various editions of the prestigious Triennale – were commissioned to renovate the entire Milan Chamber of Commerce building, which had been partially destroyed by bombings. Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni were their names. The brothers went on to develop a project that foresaw, with a view to maintaining the existing original façade, the complete restoration and reorganisation of the internal rooms, including a redesign of the lighting from scratch.


In 1957, the Castiglioni duo began designing a light fixture for the Sala della Giunta, one that would be able to combine functionality with emotional impact. At that time, the “Saliscendi” (which translates to something akin to “Ups and Downs”) was little more than a sketch yet the most important detail of all – the idea – had been put in black and white. And so it could be done.

The evolution of an idea

The Sala della Giunta was conceived by the Castiglioni brothers as having a large central table and a lighting system that served to concentrate the illumination overhead whilst also lighting the rest of the room at the same time.

© Fondazione Achille Castiglioni

A solution was developed and refined between 1957 and 1958 – it would be a mobile lamp (one that went up and down, in fact) capable of modifying the intensity of the light by moving through a system of pulleys. This system allowed a light source to be repositioned upwards and downwards, thus adjusting the intensity of the light both on the table and in the surrounding environment.

At the same time – and here comes the fun part! – the same system rendered it possible to position a reflecting disc above the light source either closer or further away. The disc and lamp body would slide in opposite directions along the cables, moving nearer or farther. The distance between the two elements changes with a simple motion, a hand pushing or pulling a small loop positioned at the base of the lamp body.


When the light source is brought close to the table, the direct light is concentrated on the underlying surface and indirect light illuminates the ceiling, with the disc – now further away – creating no obstacle. When the light source rises, moving away from the table, there is more light in the room yet the lighting is dimmer. Thus, the disc – now much closer – comes into play to reflect the indirect emission and increase the amount of light diffused within the environment.


A simply extraordinary concept even today, some sixty-five years later. And therefore, daring and visionary in 1957, to say the least! For the realisation of such a complex project, the Castiglioni brothers turned to a company that, at the time, could transform their brilliant intuition into reality more than any other enterprise.


Hence how Bruno Gatta’s Stilnovo entered the field.

The realisation

© Fondazione Achille Castiglioni

With two samples made in ruby-red lacquered metal, the Saliscendi by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, produced in 1958 by Stilnovo, cut a fine figure at the inauguration of the renewed Chamber of Commerce of Milan, exactly in the location for which it was designed by the two brilliant brothers.


Unfortunately, several impediments would prevent any further production of this complex device, never before reproduced … until now.


At the beginning of the 2000s, a new restructuring of the Milan Chamber of Commerce became necessary. Unfortunately, throughout the works, the two Saliscendi lamps were destroyed.

Great ideas never die

You know, great ideas never die.

This is how a new concept came about in 2019 – to remake and renew the Saliscendi for contemporary living!


The elaborate process of redesigning the lamp began, with the aim of rendering it appealing to the market of today. In the Stilnovo studio, the technicians and heirs of Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni essentially faced two not-insignificant problems.


The re-release of the Saliscendi had to take into consideration the technological evolution to have taken place throughout the years, along with the dimensions of the lamp. The original project made the Saliscendi impressive and effective but difficult to fit into contemporary spaces. Even if such characteristics limited its use, the light’s genius, its charm and the thrill it was able to arouse could still be breath-taking.

All the components of the lamp were therefore halved in size compared to the original. In this way, the suspension light finally found its place in all contemporary location, without impacting upon the charm and functionality of its older “sister”.


Today, the pulley system has been completely revised. The support cables along which the parts of the Saliscendi travel also serve as the power supply whilst the spiralled cord has been eliminated for a greater formal cleanliness. Now, two LED light sources guarantee a soft and comfortable dual emission.

And so, we come to the present. Renewed – yes – but still magnificent, technologically-advanced and now in three different colours, with the original ruby-red now flanked by grass-green and white-grey.


Finally, we can shout out to the world: Welcome back, Saliscendi!


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