The incredible 747 House, a Malibu home built from the recycled parts of a Boeing 747, captivated us with its ingenuity. We were so enamored with it that we had to learn more, so we contacted the home’s builder, David Hertz, principal at David Hertz Architects and Studio of Environmental Architecture. We wanted to know where the inspiration to tear into a 747 and integrate the pieces and parts into a home came from. Little did we know that there was a ton of red tape, hoops and hurdles that the team had to overcome to make the dream a reality. The 747 House is just the beginning in a series of buildings to be constructed from the decomissioned plane, but until all of those are built, read on to see what Mr. Hertz had to say about this outstanding upcycled project.

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Inhabitat: When did it first occur to you to use an old airplane to create parts of the house?

David: I have been interested in what we Take, Make and Waste, from our society’s waste streams for almost 3 decades. My early explorations with the Syndecrete product in the early 1980’s experimented with the detritus of our built environment in creative ways, so the concept of repurposing and the purpose of re- purpose is a foundational concept as well as other investigations. This project was very much organically derived and inspired by the remote site, a 55-acre property at the western edge of the Santa Monica mountain range west of Malibu, California, a property with several pads and unique topography with panoramic views looking out to a nearby mountain range, a valley and the ocean and Channel Islands beyond. The site was previously owned and developed by the Hollywood set designer Tony Duquette who developed over 21 unique structures incorporating found objects from all over the world. In 1995 the Malibu fire destroyed all but a few steel “Pagoda” like structures.

When I first visited the site I was struck by the fantastic views, but also the creativity by which Duquette appropriated found objects and made them look as if they were originally crafted like traditional indigenous structures. The use of reclaimed and repurposed objects offers a continuum of the Duquette philosophy and is somewhat of a “Phoenix Rising” conceptually from the ashes of the prior Duquette structures.

The first time I had thought about using actual large cut sections of an airplane was standing on the project site, and imagining a floating curved roof. I drew a sketch that showed an elliptical roof section, which reminded me of a laminar flow diagram of an airplane wing. At first, I thought about trying to construct a wing shaped roof, and then it occurred to me… why not just use a wing? A wing is an ideal self supporting structure that cantilevers off a fuselage and is incredibly efficient, in that it achieves the highest strength using the lightest weight and resources.

In searching for inspiration, I imagined a roof structure that would allow for an un-obstructed view of the mountain range and distant views and did not want a lot of structure obstructing the views. The client, a woman, requested curvilinear / feminine shapes for the building. The progenitor of the building’s form was envisioned as a Lautnerseque curved roof floating over the site and cascading down the site. It soon became apparent, that in fact, re-using large sections of an airplane wing itself could work as an ideal form while minimizing resources and transportation to the remote site, in contrast with typical of conventional construction where thousands of disparate pieces are transported long distances, none of which fit and 30% of which are then hauled away as construction and demolition waste.

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Inhabitat: When you first suggested the idea to your client, what did she think?

David: I presented the concept to the client by first submitting a series of close up photographs I took that showed the sculptural feminine curvilinear shapes, of the wings and fuselage sections. I showed these and asked the question; is this what you mean by feminine form? The answer was an unequivocal yes, as the forms were undeniable in their shape. This was important as an initial reference to an airplane may be at first met with a more masculine association. I then presented a series of simple photo montages where the wings were superimposed on the site, the client, intrigued, suggested we go visit an airplane up close to see what it actually might look like, as we often do not get up close to airplanes typically. Once she saw the enormity and sinuous curves of the craft up close her ability to visualize it was made more apparent and she became increasingly enthusiastic about the concept.

Inhabitat: When you first started did you envision using as much of the plane as you did? Or did you over time expand upon the idea with the intention of using as much of it as you could?

David: The initial idea was to use the wings of the 747 as the roofs, it then expanded into a master bedroom third tier where we used the horizontal stabilizers off the tail section. In as much as we had to purchase the entire 747 and would have been left with just the fuselage section left, we decided to digest the entire airplane by designing other structures incorporating the fuselage in its entirety. The concept being to “consume” the fuselage like an American Indian would consume every part of the buffalo.

Inhabitat: How hard was it to find a plane that would be suitable for your purposes? And why exactly did you choose a Boeing 747?

David: In researching airplane wings and superimposing different airplane types on the site to scale, the wing of a 747 200, at over 5,600 sq. ft., became a ideal configuration to maximize the views and provide a self supporting roof with minimal additional structural support needed. In researching aircraft we began to realize that there are hundreds of airplanes that have been retired to sit in the deserts of California and are sold at the price of their principal raw material, aluminum. I remember passing by thousands of airplane tails cast aside in the California desert. Innumerable airplanes sit desiccating in the desert of obsolescence. These Airplane Graveyards are bone-yards of used industrial technology, the casualty of entropy deriving from our addictions and submission to planned and perceived obsolescence. The ultimate act of down-cycling would be to take an airplane and turn it into an aluminum can… The material processes used to make the wing represent one of the most efficient uses of resources and human talent and ingenuity. Re-using the 747 also contains the recycling, the knowledge and the human capital that created it.

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Inhabitat: What has been the most challenging aspect in dealing with the plane? Design, fabrication, transportation, installation or something else?

David: Some of the many challenges in realizing this project were getting the project approved through (17) governmental agencies, closing 5 major freeways and highways in California, flying the wings using a Chinook Helicopter to the site, and even getting information about the airplane from Boeing as to its structure and material properties, which proved difficult due to intellectual and proprietary interest. In the post 9/11 climate, this proved difficult and ultimately led to inquiry from Boeing legal and U.S. Homeland Security to determine if our interests were a threat to National Security. Accordingly, and in the absence of proper data as to material properties etc. we had to perform a lot of onsite evaluations and analysis which we jokingly referred to as “winging it”.

Inhabitat: Considering that you’re using airplane wings for the roof, did you have to perform extensive engineering in order to ensure that the roof wouldn’t just lift off?

David: We did employ aviation experts and aerospace consultants to perform a CFD Computational Fluid Dynamic analysis on the project to verify that no uplift would be created. This is typically done by the installation of small, Vortex generators on the wind top to disturb the flow. We used the engine mounts as the strong points in the wings and connected the wings to tie into the longitudinal wing spars.

Inhabitat: Has anything surprised you about working with the plane to build a house?

David: Understanding the dynamics and structural characteristics and its complexity was humbling.

Inhabitat: Exactly which parts did you use in the construction of the main house?

David: We used the left and right wings in their entirety, less the engine and controls and the 2 horizontal stabilizers from the tail section. Additionally, we also used a piece of the fuselage with the windows as a room divider and the entire front engine cowling as a reflecting pool/fountain and fire element.

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Inhabitat: You have plans to continue building structures on the property out of the rest of the plane. What do those plans consist of?

David: We designed several structures constructed from large sections of the fuselage for several buildings on the site. A guest house made from the upper shell of the first class mezzanine, or the “hump,” is planned, called the “fuseLODGE” Additional structures include a barn, art studio and caretaker’s house made from 55′ long sections of the fuselage as well as a meditation pavilion constructed from the entire nose cone and cockpit section.

Inhabitat: In the end, how much of the plane do you think will be upcycled into the home?

David: We used every part of the airplane fuselage in addition to the wings and tail section. Some of the mid section where the landing gear is stored was not able to be used.

Inhabitat: What is your favorite thing about the house?

David: I would like to think that people will see the project as a sublime sculptural and creative re- purposing rather then a folly. I am happy with the project in its entirety. The 3 sections of the wing house work as a singular sculptural work that is dynamic as one experiences it and my favorite part is probably the shape and resolution of the cut ends of the wings.

Inhabitat: Any plans for other homes using upcycled planes, trains or automobiles?

David: Over the years I have been interested in alternative ways to build that are less dependent on the consumption of raw materials extracted from the lithosphere. I completed a house in Venice beach made from pre-fabricated industrial foam and sheet metal panels typically used in industrial freezer buildings and I am interested in working with other discards from abandoned or under utilized infrastructure. I recently completed an automotive museum where we used car windshields to form the entry canopy. I am presently working on a house on a remote site in Nova Scotia where we are using old wooden boats referred to unfortunately as “cut ups.” We are barging them to the site, pulling them aground, turning them over and using the wooden hulls as roofs. Another project in process is a Marine Animal Rescue facility where I am considering using the steel hull of a large ship.

Images Courtesy of SEA