There is a certain magic that occurs when respect for the earth meets industrious creativity. Johannesburg lighting designer Stephen Pikus is an alchemist in this respect, transforming mounds of broken glass and upcycled air filters from diesel trucks into ethereal chandeliers and brawny industrial-style pendants. His work also involves a community initiative in which he teams up with trolley-pulling street waste–pickers, amongst others who find self-employment in a country where apprenticeships are scarce and treasured. Pikus’s enterprise offers them a unique opportunity.
“All of our team members were previously disadvantaged men who rely on the money from these projects as their primary or secondary income,” Pikus explains. Recently, his studio began hosting an internship program through the talent development business UnlockD where 30 young people – including 16 female participants – receive training and a year’s work experience in installation mounting and project management.
His Fire+Ice chandelier has been installed in many South African restaurant interiors. It is made from shards of broken glass, smoothed out into opaque organically shaped pieces, then individually strung together with copper wire or fishing gut and suspended from metal rounds. The intricate work of creating the environmentally conscious light art – which is part of its awe-inspiring appeal – is undertaken by Pikus and his employees from all walks of life. In fact, his very first apprentices came out of this process.
“When I got my first few orders I taught a waste picker how to tie the glass and took him with me to the first few installations. We initially did all the work and then added a few more pickers as we started to get busier. We then brought a few security guards who worked in factories doing nightshift to tie and prepare the glass – and partnered with a group that did a lot of work with rehabilitating addicts for a year. As a person who also has a colourful past, I wanted to make a difference.”
Another Pikus design is the innovative, award-winning Truk Lamp, made from upcycled air filters from diesel trucks. “We work closely with the logistics and trucking industries – when they service their vehicles, the used filters are collected for us instead of going to landfill.” He then transforms them into various conical sizes, making them available in a range of electroplated and powder-coated finishes.
“I believe that environmentally conscious design, in our case lighting, goes way beyond merely using energy saving bulbs in a fitting. It’s something we should all be doing already. It’s about the responsible sourcing of materials, the use of earth-friendly processes and making a positive impact environmentally and socially,” says Pikus. “Many materials are thrown away daily and many of these, with a little Imagination, can become something beautiful. We have a responsibility to educate future generations on the importance of an environmental conscience.”
Through his work and community engagement, Stephen Pikus is spearheading the path for young African industrial designers to create divergent, innovative, authentically African pieces. His extraordinary lights – available in North America through Austin, Texas–based distributor wakaNINE – are a beacon to all designers that energy-efficient and socially conscious design can still be bold and beautiful.
To create his standout pieces, including Truk Lamp and Fire+Ice, the designer involves apprentices from all walks of life in the South African city.