Theme: Sustainable Design

It’s rather uplifting when big companies turn to small local businesses for help, and even more inspiring when they’re aligned in their ethos of social and environmental consciousness. When Consol Glass, the largest glass manufacturer in Sub-Saharan Africa, recently revamped its headquarters in Wadeville, Johannesburg, it called on Stephen Pikus Design to create a lighting installation in its reception area, made from 750ml glass bottles. The Modderfontein-based design company, known for turning trash into treasure, is a specialist in re-purposing broken glass to create magical light fittings, and even makes lights from other waste material such as old diesel-truck air filters and cooling fans. This commission, however, required that all 4,200 blue bottles be left intact to dangle from their plastic lids, allowing the LED strips placed within the installation to reflect cool light into the area of welcome. Stephen Pikus put his full workforce to use on this challenge – five people from his permanent team, as well as 30 interns that formed part of his year-long training initiative through UnlockD, a facilitator of the Youth Employment Service (YES) programme. “These are 15 girls and 15 guys, most of whom had never had a job before,” he explains. Pikus committed a year to teaching his trainees, instilling in them basic principles such as getting to work on time, and the importance of even turning up to work at all. “The aim was to give them a good grounding, with on-site work experience in a creative and practical environment,” he says. With the Consol installation, called The Big Blue, his interns got to understand a real work context as they learned how to use power tools and weld, making the nine steel frames holding up the 54m2 lighting design shaped like an inverted pyramid to resemble Consol’s symbol. “It was hands-on assembly for six weeks to hang the 4,200 bottles that weigh around 3.2 tonnes,” Pikus says. “It taught them tenacity as they installed one bottle after the next, and it showed them how something like glass, that you discard every day, can be used to create something beautiful. The project showed them how to think outside the box and to find opportunities in something as simple as a bottle.” Consol, which is committed to glass recycling and minimising its environmental impact, found the perfect partner in Pikus, who usually buys glass from micro recyclers pushing trolleys through town and from NGOs committed to such causes too. Pikus sees more and more corporates with “the right mindset” looking to add human elements and environmentally sustainable aspects to their interiors. “It makes things much more authentic,” he says, “when you see something made by real people, and not churned out of a machine. There are real hands poured into what we create. Small businesses can really make a difference in our country.”

100 Beautiful Things is presented by the V&A Waterfront in celebration of South Africa’s creativity, compassion, ingenuity and resilience. Every week we will be showcasing five amazingly beautiful creative things that make us proud. It is curated in partnership with Platform Creative.