Here at Build Abroad, we have found that it is best to build with local materials. Local materials can vary from mud bricks to bamboo depending on the region, but the one thing they have in common is they are easily accessible and cheap. We are very intrigued by a recent method of constructing with recycled bottles that create a bottle structure because in some countries these non biodegradable bottles litter the streets. In some ways you could call it a “local material.”

A bottle structure has numerous benefits:

  1. Rids the community of harmful plastic waste
  2. Educates the community about the environment
  3. Offers insulation qualities if necessary by filling bottles with wrappers.
  4. It’s free. A found plastic bottle is a free brick.

For this reason, many developing countries are embracing the construction of bottle structures.

1905: Tom Kellys House

Tom Kellys Bottle House
In 1905, at the age of 76, Mr. Tom Kelly started the first bottle structure in Rhyolite, Nevada. He used over 30,000 beer bottles that were held together with adobe. Being that Rhyolite was a Gold Rush town, he had no trouble collecting the beer bottles from the local saloons. He completed the house in under 6 months but he never actually lived in the home. Instead he raffled off tickets to win the home.

About 20 year later, the Gold Rush had settled down and the town was close to deserted. Paramount Studios found the house and repaired it for one of their movies. The home still stands to this day and volunteers care of it.

1960’s: Heineken WOBO

In the 1960s, Heineken proposed an idea that was ahead of its time. The idea was to construct rectangular beer bottles that could double as bricks for affordable housing. The idea actually came from the CEO of Heineken who was visiting an island in the Caribbean and saw a large amount of trash in the streets including countless beer bottles. He also noticed a lack of housing and put two and two together. His idea was to create a bottle that could serve as a brick when finished. They called this bottle the Heineken World Bottle, or WOBO for short. It was designed by the Dutch architect, John Habraken.

Heineken made about 100,000 WOBOs and even constructed a prototype bottle structure. Unfortunately, the bottle never made it to the market. In the 60s, people didn’t have the same environmental or social consciousness as they do today, so the idea never stuck.

1981:  Edouard’s Bottle Houses

In the early 80s, a man by the name of Edouard Arsenault was inspired by a postcard of a building created from bottles. The building was a bottle structure completed by George Plumb about 20 year prior. Edouard started collecting bottles and created his first Bottle Houses in 1981. In the next the next 3 years, he created 3 more “fantasy-like” buildings out of bottles. His property was turned into a tourist attraction, which is open to the public.

2005: Pura Vida

Pura Vida was the first since the WOBO to bring a humanitarian goal to bottle construction. Pura Vida is not an association or even a non profit; instead they consider themselves an independent movement. Their mission is to promote an environmental consciousness among the indigenous villages of Guatemala. They do this in a number of ways, one of which is through bottles, which they refer to as an “eco-block.” The Eco-block is an environmentally conscious way to handle the plastic bottles that litter the streets of rural areas.

2009: Hug It Forward

Hug it Forward took some of the ideas of Pura Vida and turned them into a successful nonprofit. Hug it forward was formed in the fall of 2009 by Zach Balle and Heenal Rajani. Their idea was to create a grassroots organization in Guatemala that uses plastic bottles to build schools. The first building was completed in 2009 and since then they have completed over 100 more bottle schools. They have building schools down to a science, averaging about 10 schools a year. The cost is only about $6,500 per classroom, which is a very affordable way to build.

Hug it Forward encourages other people to build bottle schools. To fulfill this goal, volunteers working for the organization have created a Bottle School Manual, which is a free open source guide on how to construct a bottle school yourself.

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