Architect David Hertz wanted to build a sustainable home, so he took a 35-year-old Boeing 747 airplane, chopped it up, and transformed it into a well-known Malibu property. Here's a look at the final results.
Meet the Architect
Meet David Hertz, the master architect behind some rather complexed structures. The talented professional was born in 1960 in sunny Los Angeles, California. As of the writing of this article, Hertz still resides in the Golden State.
The 60-year-old has been the brains behind some world-renowned constructions. Those who know David from a young age were likely hardly surprised by his success in building design. Hertz's passion for architecture began young. He was already drawn to the profession as a teenager.
How It Started
According to the Australian Architecture Association, Hertz's passion for building started in adolescence. As a teen, he would sneak onto construction sights to observe everything from the plans to the structure. Until one day the young man got caught by one of the property owners.
Getting caught in this situation turned out to be a blessing in disguise: the owner introduced David to the property's designer. And just his luck, the man behind the building was the famous L.A. architect, John Lautner. Hertz went on to be mentored by Lautner for four years.
A Love For the Ocean
Naturally, David also got a formal education. He studied at The Southern California Institute of Architecture after high school. From there, Hertz worked for another highly celebrated architect, Frank Gehry. But it wasn't long before the man opened his own architecture firm.
But David's passions went beyond design: this man also had a great love for everything earth, especially the ocean. So he mixed both of these appreciations to create the Studio of Environmental Architecture. By designing with nature, we create architecture of enduring value for people and the planet," reads the firm's website.
After plenty of studying and hard work, David was able to put all of his passions together with the founding of the Studio of Environmental Architecture. He, and the rest of the firm's team, began working tirelessly to design and create "sustainable and restorative" properties.
And so when a woman named Francie Rehwald approached the architect with a dream of a sustainably built home in Malibu, California, it probably seemed like a perfect match. And that's where the story of the "Wing House," one of David's most recognized designs, began.
Francie Had Two Requirements
Francie needed help with her future home's design, but she knew two things for sure: the property had to be environmentally friendly in design and long-term usage; and it had to be "feminine." Rehwald explained, "I told David that I wanted something that had curves that were sensual, that reflected the female sensibility."
"This was a challenge to explore my feminine side, I guess, on this project," David laughingly said. But finding ideas for the design actually turned out to be somewhat simple. With the eye of an architect, Hertz saw inspiration everywhere he went... including while flying in the sky.
David was a fan of traveling, and it was this hobby that led to the home's inspiration. "While I was in Scotland, actually on vacation, kind of jet-lagged, and at the airport, I had been taking pictures of airplanes about the curvilinear form," he shared with HGTV's Extreme Living.
Hertz explained that he started "to really look at the wing more seriously as a shape that could be used as a roof." And when the architect got to drawing up plans for Francie's house, the curvilinear shapes on the paper reminded him of those same airplanes.
The Perfect Idea
It seemed that David had an extraordinary idea. "I thought to myself, 'Why not use an airplane wing?' Constructing the roof would be expensive, but a wing was already self-supporting, it cantilevers a great distance, and it has sensual shapes and curves," he explained.
When David ran the plan by Francie and showed the future home-owner his sketches, the fellow earth-lover quickly got on board. The architect's idea seemed to fill both her requirements: it would be built sustainably and have a feminine shape. Now, they just had to find the perfect airplane.
The Sprawling Property's History
With Francie in agreement, the project was a go. Now, they just had to find the right plane. A little set wouldn't suffice; Rehwald's Malibu property was a whopping 55-acre hilltop piece of land. The gorgeous area was previously owned by Tony Duquette, the late Hollywood set designer.
The land previously made up part of Duquette's 150-acre ranch, called Sortilegium. There, the designer created a living work of art, filling the property with sculptures and gorgeous buildings. Sadly, all of this work was destroyed in a 1993 California fire. But with David's help, it would come back to life.
Finding the Right Airplane
Francie's future home would only lay on a part of the originally 150-acre ranch. But still, 55 acres was plenty of land and required a big airplane if that would be the main source of construction material. And so David paid a visit to a junkyard filled with over 1,000 planes.
The planes were kept in the California desert so that the dry climate would cause the least possible erosion on the structures. After seeing a few different options, David settled on a 35-year-old airplane that cost about $200,000. The model that ultimately turned into the gorgeous home pictured above? A Boeing 747.
A Total Transformation
Some might be confused about how David settled on a bulky, large airplane for the base of a home that was supposed to exude feminine energy. And the home-owner herself understood that confusion. But the way she saw it, Hertz totally transformed the once masculine structure.
"A 747 taken in its whole entirety indeed is a very masculine, powerful structure," Francie reflected. "But interestingly enough, taken apart, it becomes very feminine." The result was the house of her dreams: spacious, sleek, and perhaps most importantly, sustainable.
100% Recycled Content
"I don't think that I'm living in a house inspired by a plane. It's more that I'm living in a house that is recycled. It's one big recycling project," Francie told Extreme Living. And she's right - according to David, he managed to design the home totally from recycled materials!
"It is 100% post-consumer, recycled content," Hertz explained. "It's prefabricated. The fewer pieces that are delivered to the site with fewer traffic trips, and less construction demolition waste, and subsequently it's a much lighter impact on the sight."
Using the Wings
While it was the airplane's body that held the curvilinear shapes that reflected the curved lines in David's early sketches, the Boeing's sleek wings provided much of the basis for the main residence on the property. So how big exactly were the former 747's wings?
The design arguably revolved around the Boeing 747's massive wings. The structures each measured a colossal 125 feet in length and 47 feet in width each. They served as the roof for the home's multi-level main residence on the 55-acre California property.
Holding up the Winged Roof
Obviously, the wings needed to be held up in some way in order to form the home's roof. So how did the architect manage to prop up the 125 by 47 feet structures? Hertz designed the house so that each wing rested on four concrete columns spread across the two-story living area.
The wings were attached to the columns from their undersides, where landing gear and engines were once located. Steel plates secured the columns and wings together. "So you have 5,500 square feet of roof area sitting on about eight square feet. And so essentially, it's almost like a tabletop," David detailed.
Building the Walls
So all of the huge wings needed were eight columns total to be held up. Just like one very big table! But as much as Francie loved the great outdoors, her home still required walls. So David designed the main residence's shape around the curves of the wings and added concrete and glass for the walls.
Hertz chose 14-foot tall pieces of high-performance glass, which provided additional energy efficiency than the average material. The architect hung the glass sheets from the wing to close up the home. But working with a former airplane, the walls couldn't be built in just any way.
"The Wing Will Expand and Grow"
How did Hertz stick the glass sheets to the 147-foot-long wings? He instructed the building team to cut a channel into the wings where the glass would be inserted. The other side of the sheet was fit into the home's concrete foundation. Lastly, both ends were sealed with silicone.
Sealing it with silicone was crucial, as it permitted the wings to move even with the glass in place. "As the sun hits the wing, the wing will expand and grow; and as it gets cold, it'll shrink. So the pocket allows for that thermal expansion and that movement without impacting the glass," Hertz explained.
Using the Rest of the Airplane
So Francie's main residence was built from the airplane wings, glass sheets, steel, and lots of concrete. The final product was made up of three stories, 2 bedrooms, and three bathrooms. Plus a kitchen and plenty of living space for lounging; with these views, we'd want to lounge all day.
But the wings were only two parts of the 225-feet-long airplane. The Boeing 747 weighed a massive 395,000 and the designers wanted to use every part of it. "We were thinking about it in the sense of resource efficiency. How a [Native American] might look at a buffalo and just consume all of this," David explained.
Four Other Structures
Turning the gigantic wings into a sleek roof for the main house was only the start. The architectural team managed to incorporate the entire airplane into the design. A sixty-foot-long section of the plane's body turned into a guest house on the property.
A section of the airplane's back transformed into an art studio, also a structure separate from the main residence. And possibly the most special part of all? The 747's cockpit was cut off, turned on its edge, and repurposed into a meditation pavilion with the windows as a skylight.
First They Gutted It
So how exactly did they manage to take the plane apart and create the various structures around the 55-acre property? A team of about 13 people spent more than a year prepping the Boeing for the home! They gutted and cut the structure into multiple pieces.
The different parts were then hung from a helicopter and flown to the Malibu property. "This is such a big airplane. We had to take apart with a crane and forklifts, and that's where the thing is lifted off in big shells," explained Mark, who was in charge of the gutting/cutting team.
The Bulk of the Budget
Since Francie bought the 35-year-old airplane for a mere $200,000, the crucial parts of the sleek home were on the less expensive side. But according to Rehwald, where the team really splurged was in the concrete. The material was used for the home's footings and foundation.
And with massive wings came a big home that required a lot of concrete. The construction team ultimately used hundreds of cubic yards of the cement. "Let's put it this way: the concrete's more expensive than the whole 747 I bought," Francie laughingly said.
It Looked Like a Crash Site
Hertz and the rest of the Wing House team partook in a one-of-a-kind project - and it came with some unique issues. When the concrete was still being poured, and Boeing 747 pieces littered the California property, the team realized planes flying overhead might think it was a plane crash.
"The fear, of course, as pilots fly over they would call it in as a crash site," David explained. "The FFA requires us to make a universal marking for a downed airplane that is a big, red X." Hertz and the team had to mark the home's different pieces like a crash that was already recognized!
One With Nature
But all of the extra steps and precautions needed for when an airplane is turned into a home were well worth it. Francie's finished home is a unique masterpiece that somehow blends human technology seamlessly with the surrounding great outdoors. The plane wing's sleek lines flow with nature.
And it gets even better - the property has a ridiculous amount of privacy! "The beauty of this site is that it's hardly visible from anywhere else," Francie shared. "That's what makes it so special. You still have your own private world." And in this private world, there are plenty of amenities.
Aside from the incredible views surrounding literally every part of this home, the property has many small (and big) touches all around that make for a relaxing exchange stay at the Wing House. According to an online listing, there are gardens around the property with fresh herbs, veggies, fruits, and nuts.
There's also an official regulation court for playing Bocce. But our favorite options for Wing House activities? Cozying up in one of the many hammocks dotting the 55-acre estate or taking a dip in the 60-foot long swimming pool. What better view to stare at while getting a mid-day soak?
An Architectural Feat
It's safe to say the 747 Wing House is one of a kind. While there are other people who live inside a repurposed airplane, Hertz's vision is an architectural feat. "The first house that I'm ever aware of where we've taken a 747, literally a commercial 747-200, and cut it up into large sections and then used those sections," said David.
And the result is this breathtaking house amongst the beautiful hills of Malibu. "The intent is to really make a much more sublime architectural component using the curves of the shape and really emphasizing how beautiful those forms are," Hertz added. And Francie is sharing the fun.
Stay at the Wing House
At the time of this article's writing, the 747 Wing House is available for a stay on Third Home Exchange, where other luxury homeowners can have the chance to live on the one-of-a-kind property. As Francie sees it, this home now has greater meaning. "This process has seemed to have captured the imagination of many people," she said.
Francie continued, "It's not my project anymore; it is something that belongs to everyone because hopefully, it will inspire people to look at materials that we throw away and abandon as something to use in any which way they can that inspires them to do more for our planet."
A Life of Its Own
What started as an idea for a sustainable home with feminine features turned into an architectural masterpiece, thanks to the talented David Hertz and his team. Years after construction finished, the 747 Wing House continues to receive worldwide recognition. In some ways, the home has taken on a life of its own.
The stunning structure was featured on BBC 2's The World's Most Extraordinary Homes for its one-of-a-kind architecture. It was also the set of a music video for award-winning rapper Jay Z, and home to a magazine cover shoot for Rihanna. It's safe to say this Boeing 747 has lived many lives.