In the long history of human construction, almost every type of material imaginable has been used to build things. After all, you only need to find something that will hold its shape and support weight to make a building with it. The Romans would often embed empty vases into concrete to both reduce the weight of taller portions of structures as well as to take up space and use less concrete. But imagine building an entire house, village, or city out of bottles: crazy, right? To Alfred Heineken, this idea had the potential to change the world. Enter the Heinekin WOBO.
As the story goes, Alfred Heineken, an eponymous member of the great Dutch brewing family, was vacationing on the island of Curaçao when he noticed a disturbing sight: the beach was littered with empty bottles, some of which even bore his family’s name. After also seeing the poverty of the lower class on Curaçao, he had his eureka moment – why not create a bottle that would be easy to recycle as a low-cost building material for the masses?
Shortly after, Alfred asked Dutch architect John Habraken to design a bottle that was both simple and aesthetically pleasing. Three years later, the Heineken World Bottle was born. Also known as the WOBO, the bottles were interlocking and designed to be used with a small amount of basic mortar. it was estimated that a 100 sq ft shack would only require about 1,000 bottles to make. In one fell swoop, Alfred Heineken had solved a major recycling problem, provided the poor with a cheap building material, and created a new reason why charitable beer drinkers should choose Heineken.
Unfortunately, Heineken’s marketing department wouldn’t have it. They were concerned about being legally liable if one of the structures collapsed, and they did not want their premium brand of beer being associated with the poor. After a short production run, the WOBO was killed off, and Alfred Heineken’s dreams of an emerald city of Heineken bottles with it.
Although 100,000 bottles were produced, many were destroyed, and the surviving bottles serve as rare collectors items. However, two structures made with WOBOs still exist: a small shed and a double garage, both located on the Heineken Estate near Amsterdam. If there is a happy ending to this story, it is that Alfred became CEO of Heineken International in 1971 and died the richest man in The Netherlands (and he also survived a kidnapping). Cheers to Alfred Heineken, a man ahead of his time!