I’m not a big soda fan, but when I was flying home to snowy Ohio from my remember-the-sunshine trip to south Florida last week, one of the first things I grabbed at the airport after clearing security was a bottle of Coke. It was a nice pick-me-up that lasted me two flights and a layover, and it was easy to grab out of a display case in a busy quick restaurant — I knew exactly which bottle to reach for. The iconic bottle shape renders the label almost unnecessary (though I did check it anyway, because I personally think diet soda is the worst thing around), and I knew what to expect as I wrapped my fingers around the bottle’s curves. I was ready to balance the soda with my wallet and carry-on all in the same hand, because I’d anticipated the feel of the familiar shape.
That shape is more than a familiar tactile impression of probably the most famous carbonated drink in the world — it is iconic. And the Coca-Cola bottle in this well-known shape is celebrating its 100th anniversary. For a full century now, soda fans have been reaching for that same shape, and that’s a pretty impressive milestone in this world of fast-paced rebranding and literally hundreds of beverage choices.
In 1915, the Root Glass Company won a competition. The challenge? Design a bottle that, original patent bottler Ben Thomas noted, “a person can recognize as a Coca-Cola bottle when he feels it in the dark.” Root Glass based the winning design on the cacao bean (rather than the coca bean as they’d actually intended, in what turned out to be a for-the-best kind of mistake) and the “Mae West” bottle was eventually patented in 1960, only the second bottle design to do so in the US.
Atlanta’s High Museum of Art will open a new exhibit this Saturday in celebration of the milestone. The Coca-Cola Bottle: An American Icon at 100 will run February 28th through October 4th at the museum, “exploring the iconic design and creative legacy of the Coca-Cola bottle.” Works inspired by the all-American bottle will include more than a dozen Andy Warhol pieces, as well as more than 40 photographs taken by renowned photographers such as Walker Evans and William Christenberry, with over 100 total pieces on display in the exhibit’s second floor.
“The High is honored to present this exhibition celebrating an iconic American design that has influenced artists from the 20th century to the present day,” said Michael E. Shapiro, Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr. director of the High.
The first floor of the two-story exhibit space, though, will be a welcoming lobby feature with more than 500 3D printed bottles in the famous shape, created by Shapeways. The 3D printed pieces will hang from the ceiling, where visitors may view and interact with the bottle’s curves in an all-new light.
Shapeways came together with Conran and Partners to find, through an iterative process, the perfect design for the 3D printed bottles. The bottle design was set to be a suggested shape, though the first iterations would stretch out of the recognizable form when hung, distorting the look of the piece. It took only three days to get through four further iterations to create a design that would maintain its form when hung, though still stretching to allow for movement.
No less impressive than the displayed pieces, though, was the process used to create them. In an ingenious approach to their manufacture, each bottle was 3D printed in its own enclosure.
“In the final design, the bottle is actually printed in a compressed shape to both compensate for stretching and increase packing efficiency in our printers,” Shapeways noted on their blog. “In order to ensure the bottles printed and processed without fail, we designed a cage that would enclose the actual bottle as it printed so that each bottle could be ‘opened’ and revealed individually after being processed.”
This method of creation proved to be just the ticket, and Shapeways printed out hundreds of the bottles in good time for the High Museum’s exhibit opening. Check out the video below showing the removal of the pieces from the 3D printer to see just how the cage concept worked out.
If you happen to be around Atlanta over the next few months, let us know if you stop in at the High Museum and how the hundreds of Coca-Cola bottles look together on display. What do you think of this design and process? Tell us what you think over in the 3D Printed Coca-Cola Bottles for Design Centennial forum thread at 3DPB.com.