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Building with Bottles

WOBO History

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In the 1960s, Heineken beer introduced a new bottle design that would allow the neck of one bottle to interlock with the bottom of another, making use of a recessed cavity at the bottom. This clever design enabled the bottle to be recycled and converted into a brick.

The bottle became known as the WOBO, short for “The World Bottle”. The idea came from Alfred Heineken himself, and was a response to the shock of seeing the litter created by his own products, as during a vacation on the island of Curaçao, empty Heineken bottles washed ashore.

To enable the bottles to stack, two opposing sides of each bottle were made flat, while the rest of the bottle remained curved. When finished, the wall of bottles were similar in appearance to glass block walls, only rectangular with a brilliant green that tinted the natural light as it filtered through.

By 1963, Heineken had manufactured 50,000 WOBO bottles and had filed patent applications worldwide. Unfortunately, due either to costs, glitches in design, a lack of market appeal, or mixture of all three, Heineken’s World Bottle was abandoned. But the bottle did make room for everyday innovation.

Even non-interlocking bottles, including ordinary wine and glass soda bottles, can be embedded into mortar. Bottles can serve as a brick and a window in one, allowing natural light to filter in, while the tint and shape of the bottle can dictate the amount of privacy allotted.

There are few limitations regarding the type and placement of the bottle, as different arrangements can serve different functions. For example, if you wished to have a traditional square window, the effect could be achieved by placing clear, square-bottomed glasses closely together, either side by side or with one finger-space in between. You could also place liquor bottles sparsely about the wall, keeping them upright. As the sun hits them, they glow, like burning lanterns whose colored glass bathes the room in gemstone hues.

In mild climates, dark liquid can be used as insulator inside of the bottles as it absorbs and retains the sun’s heat. Though filling bottles with liquid is not ideal in colder climates where it is subject to freezing. Nor is it suitable for climates with high fluctuations in temperatures as in addition to freezing, it will thaw and re-freeze again. Both would cause the bottle to retain the cold instead and would put strain on the bottle. Using alcohol could solve this dilemma, although it may defeat the purpose of using empty bottles, unless you were refilling an empty bottle with alcohol, but this, too, would require yet another bottle. This doesn’t eliminate the possibility of using sugar water or other liquids with high quantities of sugar added to them, however. As the sugar, like the alcohol, would prevent the liquid from freezing, the same way sugar keeps freezer-pops from becoming little blocks of ice.

However you do it, incorporating bottles and utilizing their virtues through the expanses of your own creativity proves that stories like those of Alfred Heineken are not tales of failure. Rather they are the first of many stones to crack the ice of the environmental neglect.

Paper or Plastic: Searching for Solutions to an Over-Packaged World, Daniel Imhoff, Watershed Media/Sierra Club Books, Copyright 2005

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