Building With Bottles

Written by Lori Brown for

More than 100 years ago in 1902, a man by the name of William F. Peck built a home in the small, but booming mining town of Tonopah, Nev. He didn’t build with wood, brick or any other traditional materials for that matter; rather he used 10,000 empty beer bottles.

Other bottle houses popped up in the following decades as homes were often built in desert mining towns where saloons and their respective empty bottles, were more plentiful than construction materials. Short of necessities and far from freight lines, the mining town residents would likely be praised for their recycling efforts by builders today.

Peck’s Bottle House is believed to be the earliest example of a now more common act of using glass bottles in architecture. A different form of recycling, bottle houses show creativity in reuse at its best and can be found all around the globe.

It’s not just miners and beer enthusiasts crafting these bottles houses. Buddhist Monks in Thailand collected more than 1 million beer bottles and built the recently completed Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew temple, definitely the most elaborate glass bottle effort to date.

The collection of bottles began in 1984 and now, 25 years later, a complex of 20 buildings that make up the temple is complete. The monks even used the beer bottle caps to create mosaics of Buddha around the temple.

How It’s Done

Fifty years ago, Alfred Heineken designed the Heineken World Bottle (wobo), which he called “a brick that holds beer.” The bottles interlocking design was to encourage its use as a building block after consumption. Unfortunately, only a few thousand were made. Photo:
Beer bottles can make excellent building materials as they are a plentiful resource, keep their color over time, provide great indoor lighting and are generally easy to clean. The bottles are combined with a binding material such as cement, adobe or stucco for stability.

To avoid the “glass houses” stereotype, builders should ensure the foundation and frame of the house will provide sturdiness over time. Construction tends to be a slow process as bottles must be properly spaced, stacked and set for stability.

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