It’s amazing what a little inspiration and a want to make the world a better place can result in.
Beer brewing magnate Alfred Heineken was visiting one of his companies in Curaçao in1960 when he noticed the location’s lack of affordable building materials and poor quality housing, and the beaches littered with his brewery’s beer bottles. Mr. Heineken would experience a spark of genius when he figured that he could kill two birds with one stone (just a saying….maybe) and, with help from Dutch architect N. John Habraken, created a concept to design an emerald-green glass beer bottle for sale, that could later be reused as a structural building material.
After solving issues such as cost, production difficulty, aesthetics, the Heineken WOBO (World Bottle) was born! A test run of 100,000 bottles were produced in 1963, and when the beer bottles were emptied, they could be laid on their sides and become self-aligning, interlocking structural glass bricks. Habraken’s bottle design (made as 500mm and 350mm ‘half-bricks’ to create corners and openings) allowed the neck from one bottle to insert into the base of another glass. In addition, the bottle’s sides were lined with a series of rows of small bumps to aid the grip of the mortar. The bottle’s features allowed for 1,000 WOBO’s to build a basic 10′ x 10′ hut, and it was even suggested to ship the bottles in custom plastic pallets that could be reused a roofing materials.
Despite the WOBO’s shortcomings — needing thicker glass, being prone to chipping in transit, unable to join two bottles if they met end-to-end — it was quite revolutionary. To quote author & architecture critic Martin Pawley:
“[It was] the first mass production container ever designed from the outset for secondary use as a building component”.
However, due to marketing and legal liability issues (in case the structure failed), the Heineken company rejected any plans to get behind the new endeavor and the new design. During a brief resurgence in the 1970’s, only two structures — a retrofitted small glass hut and shed — were built, located in Noordwijk (near Amsterdam). Today, the WOBO bottles are pretty rare finds, and have become collectors items.