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Inventive Reuse: One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s…House?


By Pamela Simmons

Anyone who appreciates a good beer now and then knows that it can taste like heaven, but the Buddhist monks of Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew raised the beverage’s status even closer to godliness when they built Wat Lan Kuad.

In 1984 they started collecting beer bottles to use primarily for decoration, but in an effort to eliminate pollution in the surrounding region, encouraged the locals to donate their beer bottles for recycling.

 “Temple of a Million Bottles,” Wat Lan Kuad in Thailand.

 “Temple of a Million Bottles,” Wat Lan Kuad in Thailand.

With the construction of Wat Lan Kuad, meaning “Temple of a Million Bottles,” the monks were able to clean up their environment and create a beautiful and functional structure. Wat Lan Kuad is made from 1.5 million Heineken (green) and Chang (brown) beer bottles and has become an eco-friendly tourist destination.

The temple complex, located about 400 miles north of Bangkok, now includes more than 20 buidings, and the monks have even constructed toilets and a crematorium. Bottle caps provide a well-used source for interior murals and decoration. The bottles provide good lighting, effective insulation, and are easy to clean.

“Temple of a Million Bottles,” Wat Lan Kuad in Thailand video

Being confined to an airplane for any longer than necessary may be your idea of hell, but today the idea of converting retired airplanes into homes has taken off.

 Wing House in Malibu

As more and more waste is produced by the people on this planet, more and more creative ideas for its reuse are conceived. “Wing House” is made of a retired 747.

Owner Francie Rehwald and architect David Hertz reimagined 350 tons of scrap metal, once a 747 jet, into a sleek, contemporary living space on a mountain in Malibu. Aiming to reuse as many of the 4.5 million parts as possible, Rehwald and Hertz were able to turn cabin windows into windows for the home, the engine cowling became a fountain, and “Wing House” was born.

Hertz, by the way, is the author of Cool house, warm wood, published in the Journal of Architectural Coatings (now Durability + Design) in 2005.

Ironically, the house is built on a site previously owned by the unconventional designer Tony Duquette, revered American artist and designer, who professes a fondness for found objects himself.

 Wing House in Malibu

 Photo courtesy DAVID HERTZ, FAIA, Architect, Venice, Calif.

“Wing house, as a work in progress, has many plans for the implementation of environmental features,” says Hertz. “The sole fact that an entire 747 is being used to construct a main residence and six ancillary structures, is environmentally sustainable in that the material being used is 100% post-consumer waste, and the plane has already been engineered so that additional material and manpower are not necessary as they would be if the structure was to be built from the ground up. Solar power, radiant heating and natural ventilation will be incorporated as well as high-performance heat mirror glazing.”

More on Wing House can be found here.

The Costa Verde Resort offers unparalleled accommodations in its 727 Fuselage Home. Transported from the San Jose Airport on five big-rig trucks, the home boasts Costa Rican teak paneling throughout, a private entrance up a river-rock spiral staircase, 360 degrees of surrounding gardens, and a beautiful beach view from its wing balcony.

 Costa Verde 727 Fuselage Home

Inspired by a Forbes magazine article about a company offering 727 frames as “hurricane-proof living,” the 727 Fuselage Home is available for only $500 a night.

 Costa Verde 727 Fuselage Home

The master bedroom is appointed with hand-carved Indonesian teak furniture.

 Costa Verde 727 Fuselage Home
“Enjoy an evening on the terrace while sipping a glass of wine and observing your tree top neighbors: sloths, toucans and monkeys…”

As opposed to such well-planned executions, some structures seem to evolve over time. “Cano’s Castle” in Antonito, Colo., is just such a concept. Dominic “Cano” Espinosa is the creator of this house made of aluminum scrap, wire, hubcaps, grills, screen doors, beer cans, bicycle reflectors, and window casements, although word has it, he credits God with its creation and chooses to live in a trailer across the street.

 Cano's Castle

 Cano’s Castle in Antonito, Colo.

And no piece on houses made from garbage would be complete without paying homage to the darling of the fast food industry….Styrofoam! Located in Midland, Mich., this stunning, mid-centry modern style dome house was created in 1964 by architect Robert Schwartz, student of Buckminster Fuller, father of the geodesic dome.

 Robert Schwartz Dome Home

 Remax of Midland

The exterior of this house is made of foam manufactured by the Dow Chemical Company and furnished by Dow in exchange for cost information, as Schwartz was already considering the idea of building a semi-spherical home.

According to this story by Kevin Prior of the Midland Daily News, “Dow had developed a ‘spiral generation’ machine that allowed for ‘spinning’ a dome from Styrofoam. The machine rotated long pieces of four-inch thick Styrofoam in a circular manner that eventually became a dome. The foam was bound together with intense heat.

“A layer of concrete averaging two inches thick was sprayed on the dome using the Gunnite method. The exterior was finished with a coat of Dow acrylic paint and a coat of Dow Corning Corp. sealant.

 Robert Schwartz Dome Home

 Remax of Midland

 Dome home interior

“It took only 14 hours to spin the West Sugnet dome in 1964. Schwartz and his father worked on the interior of the house after the initial construction and the Schwartz family eventually moved into the home in 1967.”

Amazingly, this foam dome home is currently on the market. Check out the listing here.


Pamela Simmons

As Director of Marketing at Technology Publishing Company (publisher of Durability + Design, PaintSquare, and JPCL), I’m here to shed light on the human side of our collective endeavors in the industries and trades we find ourselves engaged in. We'll talk about the people behind the projects: creating the designs, using the technologies, industry interactivity, and achieving the synthesis that makes it all work.



Tagged categories: Adaptive reuse; Architecture; Building design; Color + Design; Dow Chemical Company; Dow Corning; Energy efficiency; Environmentally friendly; Green building; Recycled building materials; Solar; Sustainability

Comment from Chris Haught, (12/19/2011, 8:31 AM)

Interesting homes, thanks for sharing!

Comment from Iris Baron, (4/19/2012, 10:54 AM)

This is awesome!

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