Builders and architects are using waste, salvaged from recycling, in both new construction and remodels. In 1996, less than 30 percent of all waste was salvaged for recycling. Today, architectural salvage, which in simplest terms is the reclamation or reuse of architectural materials, is gaining popularity in our more environmentally conscious society.
Recycled materials such as tile and carpet, lumber and even appliances, are commonly available for repurposing. But has anyone thought about repurposing a jumbo jet?
One architect known for leading the way for sustainable architecture is David Hertz, principal at David Hertz Architects and Studio of Environmental Architecture. He was appointed to the City of Santa Monica’s Task Force on the Environment and has consulted on the city’s green building ordinances.
“I was teaching on sustainability at UCLA and considered a pioneer because I had done this in the ’80s when it wasn’t fashionable,” Hertz says. “It wasn’t until the later part of the ’90s that more people became aware of this and the realities of utilizing the planet’s resources—and more people became interested. The material that’s discarded burdens our society with big waste. I think repurposing is the way of the future.”
His imagination always on overdrive, Hertz recently designed a home in Malibu made of parts that came from, yes, a Boeing 747 jumbo jet. The idea came to him when he was standing on the site and imagining a roof that didn’t have any walls or columns to block the view. The elliptical shape he was conjuring reminded him of the shape of an airplane wing section.
“I thought, ‘Why not just use a wing?’ A wing is very strong, and I remember seeing wings and tail sections of a plane driving out to the Sierras as a kid, and I began to research those, and learned you could buy a 747 for about $30,000. That made the project a reality.”
Of course, before repurposing the house, Hertz had to get all of the government’s paperwork and zoning documents in order. Surprisingly, despite the growing need for using recycled materials, it’s not easy getting approval for environmental projects.
“It’s a struggle. It’s outside of their comfort zone and that presents a challenge,” he says. “You just have to work with them and arm yourself with knowledge and data, and overwhelm them with a presentation.”
With building designs as unique and interesting as those that Hertz creates, coming up with fantastic presentations hasn’t posed much of a challenge. He just hopes that others will follow his lead, and repurposing will eventually become the norm.
“Projects like this can be done anywhere. Looking at what we already have, rather than what we have to create, is something everyone should be concerning themselves with,” Hertz says. “I’d like to think that buildings are going to become more restorative, and not just sustainable. Almost everyone is aware of these issues now, and I believe that this way of thinking will become more prevalent in the years to come.”
The “Wing House”, as it has come to be known, was completed in 2011. It has been publicized internationally as a work of architectural significance, and the transportation of the wings to the building site received much publicity. The move required both a truck and helicopter. A truck carried some of the supporting parts from a nearby aircraft boneyard, accompanied by a seven-vehicle California Highway Patrol escort—and multiple lanes of three major freeways had to be closed to accommodate it. The helicopter carried the wings, which were lowered to the ground, making for a very unusual landing, indeed.
The property itself is historic, and it has a Bay Area connection.
The 55-acre property at the edge of the Santa Monica Mountains, actually northwest of Malibu, was formerly owned by famed Hollywood set designer Tony Duquette, who also lived in San Francisco. He built several eccentric structures that were scattered upon it, made from recycled objects and movie sets, but everything burned to ground in the Green Meadows wildfire of 1993. The property was suddenly ready to be repurposed, and a blank canvas for David Hertz was born.
The salvaged plane was a TWA jet that flew from 1970 until 1992, and the lady of the house, Francie Rehwald, told us what it’s like to live under a once-airborne roof.
“Every day is fascinating. The aluminum catches light and both reflects and captures images, colors—the changing sky; the movement of birds. I experience the illusion of flying—especially on foggy days, which San Franciscans can relate to; I used to live there. I feel like I’m floating, especially when I catch a glimpse of the wings. It’s mystical; otherworldly.”
She explains that there is an elemental sense, as well, a feeling of being grounded—with water on every level, as well as native grasses, earth, rock, and, of course, metal. The courtyard fountain—made from an engine cowling that serves as a receptacle—is particularly extraordinary. Francie says, “Not all parts of the plane were used—no fuselage; no cone. Mostly, I live beneath wings.” Of course, she named her bedroom, “First Class.”
These days the 52-year-old architect himself (and our publisher’s cousin) is also flying high, as he has just taken off into the exciting unknown of a new life. Last month, he married true love Laura Doss. The wedding was a grand and, of course, recycled affair—that is, it was a second wedding for both. We offer our congratulations.
Keith Loria is a freelance writer who has written about everything, from baseball to corporate mergers, to healthcare and entertainment. Recent interviews include actor William Shatner, heart-surgeon pioneer Marc Dedomenico, and Pez Candy CEO Joe Vitttoria. Keith is also a family man with two daughters, Jordan and Cassidy.