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Reflections on pipe lights

I made my first light of plumbing pipe for my wife, Betsey, 21 years ago. I had just moved into Tribeca, adjacent to Chinatown, and I discovered a small plumbing supply shop off Broome Street. Making objects from pipe was a quick, modular way to make structures — like Lego, except the structures were solid, strong, and maybe even beautiful. While I experimented with several object types (I made my own bed, a couple of tables), I liked the lights best. Running power through plumbing pipe stirred tension between electricity and water -- how shocking that the threading of electrical and plumbing piping are compatible! And bringing the infrastructure, usually concealed in walls, out, where it mimics the forms of the decorative arts carried a kind of industrial-emotional weight.


These days more people than usual seem intrigued by machinery imbued with emotion. There is wide interest in "steampunk," a sensibility based on Victorian-era technology (familiar to us in the films of Jeunet & Caro). Steampunk is nostalgia for a time when technology was innocent, the passionate work of mad scientists and crackpot inventors. We are saying good-bye to the Victorian technology of the incandescent light bulb, but we are having a last fling. Two years ago MESH opened an Etsy store to bring pipe lights to a wider audience. The lights have been unexpectedly popular. We have shipped them to homes, offices, and bars & restaurants.

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Reader Comments (3)

I remember those lights so well and love the twists & tubing but used to get anxious they were going to burn me or Bets in some way. Of course, they never did. I also think it cool to see the industrial/Sherlock Holmes style/Tesla style exposed innards u are talking about above, but am probably butchering the description. I know what you are getting at even if I can't describe it: old Hg Wells Time Machine/Chitty Chitty Bang Bang style technology that is chunky, big and engaging. Like Tonka Toys for adults. I love the lights also that you touch to set the light level, but not sure if you built that? I remember those lights by the beds also. Benno

June 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBenno

I also think that 'Steam-Punk' aesthetic you describe is seen in the revival of Cafe Racer motorcycles that deliberately look stripped down, tattoos and some of the robots in the first Robocop.

June 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBenno

Oh, I had one of your pipe lights! It was genius, though not so complex as the one above, which is gorgeous./E

June 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

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