Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Call a 747, home!

A California woman is going ahead with the construction of a house made of elements from a 747 Jumbo jet.

Francie Rehwald wanted her house to look "feminine", have curves and be eco-friendly. Her architect's answer was: "Let's use a 747!"

The wing of the Boeing jet will be used for the roof, its nose as a meditation temple while its trademark "bulge" will serve as a loft.

The plane's parts were obtained from an aeroplane scrap yard in California.

They cost around $100,000 (£56,000) to purchase, while the construction of the project, which is expected to start in June, is thought likely to cost several million dollars by the time it is completed.

Ms Rehwald's family owns one of California's largest Mercedes-Benz dealerships.

The property will be set on a 55-acre (22-ha) piece of land on the remote Malibu hills, looking out onto a nearby mountain range, a valley and the Pacific Ocean.


The project's architect, David Hertz, says he came up with the idea of using an aeroplane to build a home to Ms Rehwald's specifications.

"It soon became apparent, that in fact, an aeroplane wing itself could work," he says on his website.

"In researching aeroplane wings and superimposing different aeroplane wing types on the site to scale, the wing of a 747, at over 2,500 sq ft, became an ideal configuration to maximise the views and provide a self-supporting roof with minimal additional structural support needed.

"As we analysed the cost, it seemed to make more sense to acquire an entire aeroplane and to use as many of the components as possible, like the Native American Indians used every part of the buffalo."

The green aspect of the project was also important, he says.

"The recycling of the 4.5 million parts of this 'big aluminium can' is seen as an extreme example of sustainable reuse and appropriation. American consumers and industry throw away enough aluminium in a year to rebuild our entire aeroplane commercial fleet every three months."

Ms Rehwald has to obtain various permits to go ahead with construction.

In particular, she has been asked by the civil aviation authorities to mark the elements of the plane visible from the sky to show that they are not part of a crashed aircraft.

Computer rendering of the housewing-house1-david-hertz.jpgFrancie Rehwald of California is trading in her plain home for a plane home. "My mom is definitely a hippie at heart," says her daughter in the AP video clip below. TreeHugger reported the original plans to build the recycled 747 house already in 2005. It takes time to get approvals for building a house that will need to be marked so rescue teams know it is not debris strewn by a crash!

The Wing House is a sleek and elegant design, without doubt. But we ask the hard questions which the mainstream media, so enthused about the jet plane aspect, neglects to ask: does this newest mansion exemplify sustainable architecture?

It looks like the Rehwalds are getting exactly the house that architect David Hertz planned: the plane's wings form the two main roof sections of a multi-level house. All the sections of the jet plane will be used in some aspect of the project -- which includes outbuildings such as a cockpit meditation chamber and a fuselage art studio. The jet plane itself cost a bargain $40,000, less than half the budget for running the helicopters transporting the sectioned plane to the building site.

Meditation chamber from a 747 cockpit, outbuilding of the wing house by architect David Hertz. imageBut is it eco-friendly? On the one hand, it represents a novel use of recycled materials. Integrating the components of a 747 into glass-and-concrete structures is a different approach from previous recycled plane architecture, such as the recycled jet plane student pavilion or the recycled jet plane library proposed for Guadalajara (both projects by design firm LOT-EK).

On the other hand, this could be seen as greenwashing for another Californiamansion. There are options for recycling airplanes which do not require construction of a $2 million residential palace. Nonetheless, reclaiming the energy invested in assembling the finished jet plane from its respective raw materials has a certain value. However, the question here is not: "does this keep one more jet plane out of the landfill?" The question is: "Is the jet plane merely a clever structural material in an energy-efficient, sustainably built residence?"

The architects, studioea, confirm that "Solar power, radiant heating and natural ventilation will be incorporated as well as high performance heat mirror glazing." Well, given that palatial residences will be built, at least let them be beacons for development of sustainable building techniques.

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