Reduce. Reuse. Recycle … and illuminate? Even the most eco-conscious individuals may not put that last action with the three “R”s, but Alvaro Catalán de Ocón did. His out-of-the-box thinking and ability to recognize pressing world issues resulted in a line of stunning fixtures that will open your eyes, warm your heart, and light your home.
This Spanish designer has a portfolio filled with awards, accolades, and breathtaking products, but what’s truly impressive is his ability to see a less-than-beautiful side of global society and turn it into something inspiring.
Alvaro visited Colombia in 2011, and was invited to examine the issue of plastic waste contaminating the Colombian Amazon, along with a group of creative individuals. When the rain falls in areas with tropical climes, waste washes into the rivers and then into the ocean, forming atrocities like the Seventh Continent or Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Much of this waste is polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, bottles – the plastic drinking vessels that are far too easy to just toss out.
Alvaro was inspired by Japanese tea ceremonies, and the stripped bamboo device used to remove expired tea leaves. He thought about Colombia, artisanal traditions like weaving, and the plastic bottle issue, and combined these seemingly disparate things into a beautiful product and process. With advice from the Artesanías de Colombia and support from Coca Cola, the project took hold in Colombia in 2012. The country has a population of ex-guerrilleros as well as those displaced by guerilla warfare, which has caused many to lose their livelihoods. With Pet Lamp, these populations earn fair-trade wages by collecting bottles and then employing their creativity to create truly unique fixtures that reflect their culture in the materials, techniques, and colors used.
The pieces are then sent out to have a light source, wiring and weights installed, and become a finished product. The bright, colorful pieces were presented at the 2013 Milan Furniture Fair, and have earned a number of awards (a nomination for the London Design Museum as Best Product of the Year, CODESPA for best PYME, and the AD prize for Best Emerging Design Studio among them) since the project began. PET Lamp grew to include Chile in 2013, and is in the hands of the designers at SiStudio. Alvaro hopes to see it expand even further as the PET Lamp Studio Society.
These lamps are strong, light, and make a beautiful statement in any space. But there’s much more to them than that. Alvaro writes, “PET Lamp for us has become a pretext for getting to know different countries and cultures, and to enter into the lives of people in a manner that would not have been possible any other way.”