When Shaun Kasperbauer submitted his project "Bubble Chandelier" earlier this week, the bulbous yet unmistakably upcycled form, "originally inspired by the cell-like shape of soap bubbles," caught my eye. We've seen several variations of bottle lamps in the past—from Matteo de Colle's charming shades to Degross's refined "Utrem Lux" series, the lush lumens of the "Lightin" to the lo-fi marvel of "Liter of Light"—but Kasperbauer's version merited a closer look.
Upon a little digging, I was surprised to find that the project dated back to April 2011. Noting that his current company Souda, which he co-founded with Isaac Friedman-Heiman, was founded this year, I inquired about the 20-month gap. Kasperbauer responded at length:
The Chandelier was originally made as a school project of mine a few years ago. Isaac and I, along with our third studio-mate Luft Tanaka, just graduated in May from Parsons School of Design for product design. I had been shopping around for commercial spaces during the last month of school and we signed a lease on our studio space on June first. We are just in the process of launching our first line, which includes a few revamped pieces that we had designed in the past along with a few new objects (and a number of items still in development). While the Bubble Chandelier was originally prototyped a few years ago, it has just now finished its first production run. The relationship with SURE WE CAN is something that came about once we started looking to produce the fixture.
It so happens that Kasperbauer's environment afforded a win-win solution for sourcing some of the raw materials—post-consumer PET bottles—for producing the lighting fixture:
I live in Bushwick and for whatever reason there seems to be more people who collect cans in this neighborhood then some of the previous ones I have lived in. When we were originally trying to source the bottles needed to produce the lights, I started talking directly to some of the homeless people who collect cans in my neighborhood hoping that we could source bottles that way. We quickly ran into a number of logistical issues: language barriers, storage space and most importantly we weren't able to source enough of the specific types of bottles needed. Eventually, I found SURE WE CAN through a fundraising video that they had produced a few years ago. Since then we have been sourcing the cans directly from SURE WE CAN, which is also operated in Brooklyn.
The organization is set up specifically to help facilitate homeless individuals who collect cans. Besides just being able to receive money back for the cans themselves, the sorting of the cans, along with facility maintenance is done primarily by homeless individuals and canners that Sure We Can employs. The place is really rather fascinating in it of itself. The people there are also really great. We were able to work out an arrangement with Ana Martinez de Luco (the woman who helps run Sure We Can) so that we can source the bottles already sorted through them for the same rate that the recycling facilities give for the bottles. On top of that, we have decided to donate 10% of the proceeds of each light sold back to SURE WE CAN.
While the design of the fixture hasn't changed too significantly, bringing it to production has added a distinctly new layer to the piece. I think the process of sourcing the bottles is perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the chandelier. It also allows us to really give back through design, [a trait that] Parsons [instilled] in us.
And if the $780 pricetag seems a little steep for a lighting fixture "made from 60 two-liter soda bottles... connected with aluminum rivets," Kasperbauer notes that it's a labor-intensive, with each piece taking upwards of eight hours to assemble:
The chandelier uses 60 of the bottoms of the bottle and 11 of the tops, so once all 60 bottles are cut we are left with 71 different cut-offs of PET. To create the dome-like shape, the pieces are each connected to one another at five different points to create a dodecahedron from sub-assemblies of bottles. So with 71 different bottle cut-offs we end up drilling over 350 holes, then using 175 rivets to connect them.