Beer Can House: Manipulating for the Need

Rather than looking toward a new and innovative material this week, I have decided to look to an experimental and innovative use of an unlikely and common material, designed and applied by a common man.

“Some people say this is sculpture but I didn’t go to no expensive school to get these crazy notions.” -John Milkovisch

The Beer Can House in Houston, Texas is not designed by an architect, but a common man named John Milkovisch. After retiring from his work as an upholsterer for the Southern Pacific Railroad, John began transforming his home in Houston. The transformation began by inlaying various objects in concrete across his yard because he “got sick of mowing the grass”. I hear you John, growing up on an acreage with a chore of 2-3 hour grass mowing, I spent many hours of my summers wondering why having grass and having to mow it is necessary. But John decided to change his situation and in an artful manner used found objects to create patterns and designs in his concrete yard rather than grass.

After the concrete exploration, John and his wife began transforming their house itself by covering it in beer cans. Eighteen years and approximately 50,000 beer cans later, their home was completely covering in beer cans. Not only is the house covered, but the beer cans (and even some bottles) appear in various installations across the property. An unlikely elegant array of garlands hanging from the edge of the roof provides shading for the windows of the home, lowering the energy bill, but also is quite a treat to the eyes and the ears. The garlands blowing in the breeze evoke a connection with nature not often found in the built environment, almost similar to watching prairie grasses blow in the wind.

The Beer Can House

Can Screen

Concrete Yard

Can Garland (See video of garland blowing in the wind here)

“Texas Pride”

Can Wall

Bottle Wall

While the Beer Can House is no feat for design, there are moments that facilitate an unexpected experiential quality and give hint to the process of construction. Most materials are bought, ready to be fastened together and applied to the construction of a home. The beer cans John and his wife used were not bought specifically for building, and they were each manipulated in a way that addressed a particular need. Some are flattened, some are stacked, some create screens or garlands, some transfer light, some deflect heat, and some create sound.

John Milkovisch is a great example of human interaction in the built environment. As humans we garner a sense of identity to place. For some building a very typical house themselves or with the help of a builder fulfills this need. Others are fulfilled by buying a place designed by a professional. The Beer Can House represents a pure example in an everyday environment of creating this identity without preconceived thoughts about what a place should be. What could be the possibilities of materials or even systems and infrastructures for distribution, collection and repurpose of materials by combining this “everyday design thinking” the John Milkovisch portrays with the thoughts of designers and material scientists?

Information Sourced from site visit and http://www.beercanhouse.org/

Photos and video by Reenie McCormick

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