Heineken brick bottles

Photo: Fotero/Flickr

Even Heineken fans might not know that the lager’s famous green bottle could at one time be used as a brick to build functional walls. At least, that’s what Alfred “Freddy” Heineken, the grandson of the company’s founder, experimented with for a short period in the 1960s before unfortunately giving up on the project.

Why make a beer bottle that doubles as a brick?

While on a trip to the Caribbean in 1960, Alfred visited the island of Curacao, off the coast of Venezuela near Aruba, and found that he couldn’t walk any distance on the beach without finding his company’s own green bottles discarded everywhere on the ground. He was appalled by the waste (there was no local infrastructure to refill the bottles or recycle them at the time), and the chronic shortage of building materials in poor areas of the island.

Trying to kill two birds with one stone (figuratively, of course), he commissioned renowned Dutch architect N. John Habraken to create a design for "a brick that holds beer." The seed of the Heineken WOBO (aka World Bottle) was planted...

History of the Heineken WOBO

Photo: Fotero/Flickr

It took three years to reach the final WOBO design, and after many iterations, Heineken and Habraken settled on the bottle that you see in the photos above: The World Bottles are interlocking thanks to a short neck and a similarly shaped recess in the base, and they are designed to be laid flat with rows being held together with cement mortar with an extra silicon additive. The sides have bumps to make them more stable in the mortar.

Of course, making a structure large enough for people to live in takes a lot of WOBOs. A 10-square-foot structure would require about 1,000 bottles. That’s a lot of lager! But better in a wall than littering the beach, Alfred must’ve thought.

In 1963, Heineken produce 100,000 WOBOs in two different sizes, with the smallest one acting as a “half brick” to help bolster the structural strength of any wall made. But sadly, production stopped there and most of the bottles were destroyed. (If you have one, it might be valuable to collectors!) Only two structures built with them remain, both located on the Heineken estate in Noordwijk, near Amsterdam in the Netherlands. One is a shed, the other a garage.

Part of the reason for the end of this experiment was that WOBOs were slower and more expensive to make, requiring thicker glass, and were not as comfortable to hold as round bottles.

Beer bottle wall

Photo: andy carter/Flickr

Alfred Heineken then stopped developing the concept, though other kinds of bottle walls were made (though mostly with regular bottles, and not purpose-designed ones like the WOBO). For some examples of other structures featuring bottle walls, check out Vitreosity or InspirationGreen.

Beer bottle wall

Photo: loop_oh/Flickr

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Michael Graham Richard ( @Michael_GR ) Michael writes for MNN and TreeHugger about science, space and technology and more.

Heineken once made a beer bottle that doubled as a brick
Even Heineken fans might not know that the lager’s famous green bottle could at one time be used as a brick to build functional walls.