These are Heineken’s World Bottles--or WOBO for short.

Notice how blocky it is?

The idea was that, once the beer was finished, the bottle could be used as a brick to construct housing.

Sound crazy? It’s really not. Structurally, the interlocking design worked, and it required very little mortar to fit.

The catch seemed to be that, back in the 1960s when this was developed, people preferred round bottles.

We can’t help but wonder if the idea was just a bit ahead of its time.

Because imagine if every beer you drank helped someone build a home. It’s a strange thought, but by no means a bad one.

Co.Design

Heineken’s Lost Plan To Build Houses Out Of Beer Bottles

In the 1960s, Heineken proposed a novel idea: rectangular “World” beer bottles that could double as bricks for affordable housing. And it’s not nearly as crazy as it sounds.

Here’s a design anecdote that is sure to light up your next cocktail party. While Miller, Bud, Coors, and even Heineken are all redesigning their bottles for more shelf appeal, in the 1960s, Heineken briefly introduced a different bottle for an entirely different reason.

It was called the Heineken World Bottle (or WOBO), designed by architect John Habraken after then-CEO "Freddy" Heineken had an epiphany. While visiting the island of Curaçao, Heineken was bothered by the mass amounts of trash--including his own bottles--and the lack of housing. His solution? Make a beer bottle that could serve as a brick when it’s finished. From Cabinet:

A beer bottle standing upright is, surprisingly, up to code, bearing 50 kg per square centimeter. But bottles are not easily vertically stacked. Laid on their side, though, they crush too easily. Habraken’s solution was to develop vertically stackable Chianti-like bottles with long necks and recessed sides that nested into and supported each other. It was a brilliant compromise, but Heineken’s marketing department rejected it as “effeminate”--a curious description considering that the bottle consisted of two bulbous compartments surmounted by a long shaft. We can only assume that Habraken did not anticipate why the men of Curaçao might not want to hold this up to their lips.

So Habraken went horizontal. His next design was for a thick rectangular bottle--much closer to Heineken’s original notion of a brick that held beer. The bottom was dimpled in a pattern identical to the bottle’s stubby neck, so that the top of one bottle would interlock with the bottom of the next. The sides had a nubbled surface, to make them both easier to hold and to apply mortar onto. Still, there were some trade-offs: the glass had to be thickened for the disadvantaged horizontal orientation, and its blockier corners made it more susceptible to chipping in shipment.

Heineken actually produced 100,000 WOBOs in a test run (or enough to build roughly 100 small houses), and even constructed a whole home out of them near Freddy Heineken’s villa in Noordwijk, but the bottle never actually made it to market, most likely because customers of the 1960s preferred the feel and look of the rounded bottle. Yet I can’t help but wonder if the WOBO was simply a product ahead of its time. 50 years later, and we’ve grown into a socially conscious country. Millennials flock to buy Tom’s (can we just say, kinda ugly?) shoes knowing that another (kinda ugly) pair will reach someone in need. We’ve grown to expect corporate social responsibility, and as consumers, we’ll go out of our way to subsidize it.

Put differently, I may be a microbrew snob, but offer me a cheap pilsner that makes the world a better place, and I’m sold.

Read more here (Cabinet) and here (Food & Think).

[Image: The Heineken Wobo wall by Paula D. Glover]

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25 Comments

  • lakawak

    REally? You REALLY wonder if they would work today? A bottle that has to be MUCH thicker...and therefore heavier, greatly increasing gas consumption to ship them...and all for the 10% that might be recycled into houses?

  • Jonah Brown

    lakawak - You really are a bundle of joy, aren't you? You've gone across this whole post informing everyone how ridiculous this is. So, do you have any better ideas? how's the design&marketing in your beer company doing? It's easier to shoot down other's ideas than to make your own fly.

  • TL Dragon

    Really? You REALLY assume the specs, materials and weight would have to be EXACTLY like the WOBO? 

    Materials are SIGNIFICANTLY different today than they were 50 years ago. As far as the actual project, houses made of beer bottles are not new or novel. Early 1900's is one of the first IIRC. 

    This is a VERY workable plan. I will bet large sums of money there are engineers out there, or heck even just a craftsman or hobbyist who have the skills and plan to make this feasible financially and ecologically. It's simply a matter of the right person and the right motivations meeting up with funding and an outlet to make a go of it. 

    Just gotta get past the uninspired, unimaginative and useless "it's can't be done" crowd. 

  • EmpiresFall

    Splendid. do they have any left over? I'm building my house out of beer bottles in Hosur, TN and they're all round so it's a bit of a challenge getting them to stack up without a frame. Any help is welcome and invited. :-)

  • Jello Brand

    Or whenever they sober up, whichever comes first. And you know what they say about people that live in glass houses ...

  • Jello Brand

    Or whenever they sober up. But you know what they say about people that live in glass houses ...

  • cassette_walkman

    A great example of lateral thinking but the questiong is: Is it a more efficient use of the bottles than recycling the glass?

    Nope. Unfortunately it's not really an efficient use of materials. Either independantly for the glass bottle industry; the building industry; or the combination together.

    Recycling glass uses less energy than making new glass, which also has onflow benefits to the manufacturing equipment lifespans (furnaces). And in fact the building industry has discovered benefits of crushed glass itself as a raw aggregate and also as a component in concrete and brick production.

    I hate to be so dry when it's such a cool concept, but despite the idea being rejected by the marketing department, if it's not actually an efficient idea, it just becomes a marketing idea anyway.

  • lakawak

    Asortofdream...and those third world countries drink a lot of Heineken, do they? And before you say "No...but if all their bottles from around hte world were used for these countries..." well..don't embarrass yourself. If you are going to ship those bottled to these countries to be used, you are once again taking one of hte least effcient use of this.

  • lakawak

    Erik...not when you are repurposing something for a task that it is not even close to being the best option for.

  • Erik Mintz

    Reuse/re-purpose is almost always more efficient than recycle through re-manufacture. Are you saying that building modern recycling facilities in third world countries would be less impact than people picking up trash that is usable? It IS an efficient idea.

  • Asortofdream

    You're missing the point that this is geared toward third world economies where recycling programs are bound to be cost ineffective. 

  • cassette_walkman

     He'd get pissed, get into a brawl with the big bad wolf and the other pigs would make them cool it off in the cells overnight.