THAILAND : Buddha in a bottle
Bottle Bank Buddha
Monastery of a Million Empties
Text and photography by Eric Pasquier
Bored by the weekly visit to the bottle bank? Be inspired by the monks at the sacred complex known as the monastery of a million bottles.
The entire building is covered with used bottles – whisky, beer and Fanta bottles are painted and stuck to walls in huge, intricate mosaics.
Now there are even buildings made only from bottles – a bizarre, but stunning approach to architecture and design.
ERIC PASQUIER travelled to Thailand to see their unique approach to recycling.
In the north-western province of Si Saket there is a Buddhist monastery which today is known as Wat Lan Kuad – the monastery of a million bottles.
The village’s head monk, Pha Koo Wiwek Thummajarn, is the genius behind this unique approach to recycling. The monastery of Kunhard has existed since 1981.
Like most Buddhist monasteries, it was originally built from wood. But 1990, a most original idea came to the head monk: he decided to embellish his monastery.
The monks fo Wat Lan Kuad have bottles sent to them by the sackful from all over Thailand. The monks estimate that their monastery contains some 1.5 million bottles. The ones used most are empty bottles of Krating Dang, an extremely popular energy drink sold everywhere in Thailand. Their square shape makes them a perfect construction material. The monks also use bottles of Mekong (Thai Whisky), beer bottles, Fanta, 7Up or Coke bottles. The bottles are inventorised and arranged by category as soon as they arrive, and labels considered ‘unaesthetic’ are removed.
At first, the bottles were used only for decoration, in particular on the roofs. Then, very gradually, the entire monastery was rebuilt using bottles. A whole new style of architecture was born.
Today, the bottles are an integral part of the village. Pha Koo Wiwek Thummajarn teaches his monks how to build with them. Work is a continual process. The bottles are everywhere – on the inside and outside of the monastery’s buildings, monuments and temples.
Bottle caps are also used by the thousands at Wat Lan Kuad. Like the bottles, they are separated according to category, then painted as the head monk dictates. They are used to make mosaics – mostly representing Buddha – which cover the walls of the temple.
Pha Koo Wiwek Thummajarn alone decides how the bottles are to be arranged throughout the monastery. He has increased the size of the monastery’s grounds by constantly adding on new bottle-houses. For the time being, only one monk actually lives in an all-bottle house. The others – seven male and two female ‘bonzes’ – live in the main temple. Construction takes a long time, but seems to be solid enough, even with the relatively fragile material of glass.
Pha Koo Wiwek Thummajarn explains that glass actually has many advantages as a building material: the structures don’t age or change colour over time, even though the region receives a huge amount of rainfall. Glass also means that the structures require little or no maintenance, which allows the monks to save time and money, and thus be able to devote themselves more fervently to Buddha.
Pha Koo Wiwek Thummajarn wanted to be the pioneer in this category of construction. In 1990, he inaugurated the first Buddhist temple in the style, which won him a mention in the Guinness Book of Records. Now other monks are following his lead. In southern Thailand, at Songkra to be precise, the local monks have begun construction of a glass monastery. The idea is well on its way to catching on in other provinces and even other countries.
Copyright © Eric Pasquier
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