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Heineken's WOBO Bottle, Designed For People To Build Houses Out Of Beer Bottles

Culture | September 17, 2019

For Alfred "Freddy" Heineken, building a house out of glass beer bottles was a solution to two problems -- and in 1960, it was a visionary attempt at recycling. On a trip to the Caribbean island of Curacao, Heineken witnessed beaches strewn with empty beer bottles, many of them bearing his own name (Heineken/Amstel had a brewery on the island at that time); he also noted the poor living conditions of the residents, partly due to a lack of affordable building materials.

Heineken had a bolt of inspiration: What if you could make a beer bottle that could be used as a brick? He enlisted John Habraken, a Dutch architect, to design the WOBO, short for "world bottle." This design was also called the “brick that holds beer.”

Devising A Stackable Bottle Was A Challenge

The unusual shape and texture of the WOBO. Source: heinekencollection.com

The design of the bottle was a challenge. For example, to be usable as a beer bottle, the product needs a protruding neck to drink from. The neck, in turn, makes it difficult to stack once the beer has been consumed. They also had to be designed so that the bottles did not need to be cut in order to construct a building. Heineken developed prototypes in two sizes: 350 mm and 500 mm. The smaller size was meant to even out the rows. Each of the prototypes was designed to lay horizontally and interlock similar to brick and mortar construction.

The Bottles Met Resistance Within The Company

Source: (erikrjiper.nl)

Heineken’s marketing department was not enamored with the bottle; they worried that it would open the company to complaints about the wrong usage of the bottle. The company had designed two prototypes and the marketing department expressed concerns that the first concept was too “effeminate” which was not in line with masculine images of beer drinking.

For the second prototype, they thickened the glass so that the bottles could be stacked horizontally. Ultimately, these bottles were more expensive and took more time to produce than the original cylindrical bottles.

You Have To Drink A Lot Of Beer

Source: heinekencollection.com

Constructing a structure out of glass may be a way to recycle glass, but the construction requires a lot of bottles (and a lot of beer drinking). To simply create a 10’x10’ structure requires 1000 bottles.

It Was Successful, For At Least One Building

One of the only structures made of the bottles. Source: heinekencollection.com

In 1963, Heineken produced 100,000 of the bottles, which would have been enough to construct 100 small houses. Some of the bricks were used to construct a shed on Heineken’s estate in the Netherlands. For this structure, Heineken even used recycled materials for the roof: he repurposed the plastic shipping pallets for the product.

Some WOBOs Ended Up In Thailand

A Buddhist temple in Thailand. Source: (homesthetics.net)

10 years after the WOBO experiment, architecture critic Martin Pawley published Garbage Housing, a book that discussed the idea of turning waste materials into building materials. It was the same idea Heineken had come up with. The cover of the book featured a picture of Heineken’s shed.

Today, the shed is one of only two structures constructed almost entirely with the bottles: the other is a wall at the Heineken museum. The WOBO failed to take off, but one more spectacular example of it in use does exist. It's the Wat Pa Maha Wedi Kaew temple in Thailand, also called the Temple of a Million Bottles. The temple is constructed of more than 1.5 million bottles from both Heineken and the Chang brewery, a local brewer.

Ultimately, the WOBO may have been an idea that was before its time. Or, it may have been that customers simply found the traditional cylindrical bottle much easier to drink from, an important consideration when choosing a beer.

Tags: A Brief History Of... | Freddy Heineken | Heineken | Rare Facts And Stories About History

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Cyn Felthousen-Post

Writer

Cyn loves history, music, Irish dancing, college football and nature. Social media is also her thing, keeping up with trends and celebrities with positive news. She can be found outside walking or hiking with her son when she's not working. Carpe diem is her fave quote, get out there and seize the day!