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Building Bottle Walls

By Rick Gush, Urban Farm contributor

Friday, August 5, 2011

bottle wall

Photo by Rick Gush

My bottle wall is really coming along! These walls are sturdy and, when done properly, look great.

My finger has finally healed to the point that I can work with my hands again. Whoopee! Thanks to this, I’ve been building a new bottle wall in the garden to create a new terrace area for planting. Aside from having to carry sacks of cement up the cliff, it is ridiculously easy — I’m pretty sure monkeys could do it, too.

Basically, I just stack the bottles with a slop of concrete in between, leaving the butt end of the bottles exposed and the necks on the unseen, inside of the wall. When I reach the desired height, I make a flat and level top area, upon which I put a row of red clay bricks. This last step is a unifying decorative touch that pulls the sprawling set of terraces together and makes them all seem to be part of a whole. I think this aesthetic is an important part of the project.

When I started building the bottle walls, I had no idea I was part of an almost-movement. I got the idea from some old buildings made from bottles that I’d seen in ghost towns in Nevada when I was a kid. All the old wood buildings in these ghost towns were slowly crumbling, but the bottle houses were still intact.

It turns out, bunches of other people are also building things out of bottles. So far, the best bottle structure has to be an entire Buddhist temple built of Heineken and Chang beer bottles in Thailand’s Si Sa Ket province. On the other end, lots of crazy artists have built really crappy-looking houses, but those are outnumbered by the many projects that simply used bottles instead of bricks when building walls. If one Googles “bottle building images,” pages and pages of pictures of various bottle structures will appear — pretty interesting.

The work on the new Urban Farm University in Amsterdam has been going along rather well, considering the project is only about two weeks old. I've been spending most of my time these days writing plans, filling out application forms and studying Dutch. The complex we are envisioning already has a few buildings but we need to build more dormitories, work sheds and greenhouses. We’ll be using bottle walls in all of these cases wherever appropriate.

I’m not sure what the term is for recycling something without reducing its form. Perhaps upcycling? Instead of reducing a bottle to molten glass and making a new bottle, upcycling recycles the bottle in its original form. One of the first research projects of the university — already underway — is an investigation into the various ways in which we might be able to upcycling materials found in the trash stream.

Read more of Rick's Favorite Crops »

Give us your opinion on Building Bottle Walls.
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A great concept. Yes, living here in Nevada (and visiting some great places in historic parts of Arizona) you can see some wonderful examples of bottle walls and bottle houses. For those of us urban historians, these are treasures of information. You can learn a lot about an area by looking at what they were drinking!

For those of us social historians, they are just great to look at, especially if they were built with the bottles going through the wall to the inside. Wonderful colors and light patterns and designs are possible.

A question for you: If you use only green glass bottles, would you have a new meaning for the term "greenhouse?"
Bruce, Las Vegas, NV
Posted: 8/8/2011 7:32:08 AM
I too, do this. I've made many, many, raised beds and borders using nothing but glass bottles and no, I am not anal about their being perfectly level/straight. They look fine to me and that is all I care about.
deborah, Southern, AL
Posted: 8/5/2011 3:45:19 PM
Rick, My orderly mind would make the bottle walls ever so much more complicated than needed. I would have to have straight lines of bottles that were level both along the length and width. I would have to have a concrete block foundation base under the wall to support the weight of the wall. You can imagine the stress it would give me to build such a recycled thing. Heh heh, I am trying to break out of that mentality but it's difficult to break the old row crop farmer mentality. It certainly sounds like you have found a new direction for your passion in life. Have a great Urban Farm University in Amsterdam day.
David, Omaha, NE
Posted: 8/5/2011 7:16:50 AM

About the Blogger

Rick Gush

Rick Gush
Rick Gush has long been a staunch organic gardener. While a student at the University of California at Davis he worked at local tomato and sugar beet farms and continued in the agricultural and horticultural industries for many years. A career move in the 1990s led him to design computer games, but no matter how much of a techie he’s become, gardening and farming remain his principal passions.

In 2000, Rick moved to Italy, where he writes to you about his cliff garden and other experiences in Italian urban agriculture.

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