Repurposing abandoned infrastructure to create architecture works is a stream that is gaining popularity, and rightly so. These are 100 per cent consumer recycled materials that get a second life, and one of the most cost effective ways of conserving physical energy, reducing cost of materials, and maximising cradle-to-grave use.
The award winning 747 Wing House has been remarkably designed and built using parts of an old, abandoned 747 airplane in Malibu, South California, USA. The house was built on a 55-acre property that was ruined in a wildfire. Architect David Randall Hertz architects and his firm in California, the Studio of Environmental Architecture, conceptualised the entire design, which complements the landscape and the mountains behind, and devised ways of using existing pads and retaining the walls. His original design sketch showed a curved roof form that resembled the wing of an airplane, with minimal walls and supporting pillars which enhanced the surrounding views from within the house. The orientation and dimensions of the existing pads confirmed that a wing of the airplane could be used as a roof for this house. The wing contour resonates with and complements the profile of the Santa Monica mountains behind.
The architect convinced the owner to buy an old Boeing 747 airplane for a mere $30,000 from an airplane graveyard at Victorville airport.
The plane was originally worth $25 million in 1970 but now, retired, it lay rejected as 350 tonnes of scrap metal. The airplane was cut into parts, the cockpit removed, and was made ready to be transported to its new home — the biggest challenge of this project. After two years, and permits from 17 government agencies, the 747 was ready to start the journey.
The truck that would carry the parts was 45 feet wide and 125 feet long, and it was driven at night escorted by seven highway patrol vehicles. However, the wings, each weighing 20,000 pounds, could only be flown into the site by helicopter, and dropped from the air. It took over two hours at $8000/hour to transport the wings, which were carefully laid over a heap of tires.
The main house was designed as two separate buildings but linked together on three levels. It uses two wings and two stabilisers from the Boeing 747. The lower structure with its 18-foot high ceilings is partially open air, and holds the left 747 wing. The upper structure is the main house and holds the right wing along with two horizontal stabilisers as the roofs of the master bedroom and bathroom. The use of airplane wings provides the structure with very high strength despite being very light in weight. Not only did the reuse of the mounts minimise the use of foundations, but the glass membrane maximised natural light and ventilation in the building. The transportation of the plane from the graveyard to its new home in Malibu came at a very small cost compared to what could have been the actual cost of building a house on that site with new construction material, which would have also generated a lot of construction waste.
Apart from using airplane parts, the architect used material from the burnt down structure to create new walkways and rebuild the foundations. He used cellulose insulation in the wings to create a high energy-efficient envelope for the house. The house has a solar hot water system, which again reduces its carbon footprint.
“We looked at the airplane much like a Native-American Indian might look at a buffalo, in that we should consume all the pieces of that plane,” Hertz said.
The main house incorporates only the wings and two stabilisers of the Boeing 747. Six ancillary buildings on the site will use the remaining portions of the 747 fuselage. An art studio building will use the 50-foot long section of the upper fuselage as a roof, while the remaining front portion of the fuselage and upper first-class cabin deck will be used as the roof of a guest house. The lower half of the fuselage, which forms the cargo hold, will form the roof of a barn. The entire front of the airplane will be repurposed to become a meditation pavilion, in which the cockpit windows will form a skylight.
Wrapped in clean line modernism, a living sculpture, this is definitely one of the finest examples of refuse being transformed into unique design, sustainable use of recycled material and the repurposing of abandoned infrastructure.