Ultimate Dutch design: the beer bottle house
The Netherlands is famous for its beer, namely Heineken. It also has a hot reputation for design and architecture. Put the two together and what do you get? The beer bottle house!
Beer meets sustainable housing
This design story dates all the way back to 1960 Curaçao, where, while on a world tour of his factories, brewing magnate Alfred Heineken was confronted by a combination of poor living conditions and discarded bottles littering the beaches.
So he put his mind to coming up with a solution for sustainable housing that could also make use of waste materials.
Beer bottle bricks
Alfred Heineken invited well-known Dutch architect N. John Habraken to design a beer bottle that could be used as a brick. It took three years to develop the interlocking glass design, which incorporated a short neck, recessed base and textured sides.
The brick bottles were designed to be laid flat in rows and held together with cement mortar combined with an extra silicone additive.
The WOBO house
By 1963 the Heineken World Bottles, or WOBO for short, had been created and the brewery manufactured a test run of 100.000 bottles. The bottles came in two sizes: a 500mm version and a 350mm "half brick". The developers calculated 1.000 bottles were enough to build a three by three metre hut. That’s a lot of drinking!
Alfred Heineken referred to the WOBO as "a brick that holds beer" and was so enthusiastic about the idea that he planned to print building instructions on the side of the bottles.
However, major obstacles emerged in bringing the WOBO concept to mass production. The bottles required thicker glass to be strong enough to bear weight when laid horizontally.
The bottles also chipped easily during transit and construction, and if two met neck to neck while building then there was no way to create a smooth join.
Heineken’s marketing department was also reluctant to implement the concept because they were afraid of the company’s liability if a building made out of WOBO bricks collapsed. Plus they did not want to associate the brand with poverty. So in the end the idea was shelved.
The WOBO legacy
Only two structures were ever built out of WOBO bricks: a hut and a shed, both of which stand on the Heineken estate in Noordwijk, on the Dutch coast.
Today the WOBO bottles are far from waste material, with intact versions revered as rare collector’s items. Architects and designers still hail the idea as revolutionary and a precursor for modern thinking towards sustainable architecture.