Hot Wings

Design trend alert: turning scrapped airplanes into architectural marvels

LOT-EK's design proposal for Guadalajara's Jalisco Library using recycled airliner fuselages Courtesy LOT-EK

What happens to airplanes when they die? Though it’s fun to imagine them flying up to some big hangar in the sky, the truth is that of the 200 that are retired worldwide every year, most end up in scrap-metal graveyards. Some are even simply abandoned to rust next to landing strips, becoming the FAA equivalent of junked front-yard jalopies.

But there’s a bright side to this story. Enterprising engineers in the U.S. and Mexico are finding new ways to make use of North America’s jumbo fleet of scrap aluminum. Old airplanes are chock-full of building materials, and since the cost of disassembling a plane is greater than the value of the parts, they’re surprisingly inexpensive to buy. Retired fliers are being used in the design of homes, a library and even a one-of-a-kind limousine. Below are a few of the better ideas (click here for photos).

The Super-Stretch Limo

A limo’s not really a stretch limo, at least according to MasterCard, unless it’s 52 feet long. To promote its Win 500 Flights sweepstakes, the credit-card company created a supersize ride for Vaca Limousines in Guadalajara, Mexico using the front section of a Boeing 727. It took 60 people and three months to remove the wings and install the jet’s frame on a 2000 Mercedes Benz bus chassis. The six-cylinder diesel-powered limo seats approximately 50 and uses air brakes. Everything but the cockpit was ripped out to make room for a bar, a flat-screen TV and a â€romantic†back room (for those who want to join the mile-high club).

The â€Fly†House

Airplanes are made to endure harsh weather, so it seemed natural to Los Angeles architect David Hertz to repurpose one for shelter. Hertz convinced client Francie Rehwald to spend $300,000 on a 35-year-old Boeing 747 and use its 4.5 million parts to put up eight buildings on her 55-acre property in the Malibu, California, hills. One of the 2,500-square-foot wings will become a roof, the top deck will convert into a guest house, the first-class cabin will become an art studio, and the nose cone will be used to build a carport, barn, caretaker’s residence, workshop and meditation pavilion. Going vintage has prompted some interesting requests, including one from the FAA to paint numbers on plane parts visible from the sky to show that Rehwald’s property isn’t a crash site.

The Jumbo Library

Even when cursing the lack of legroom on a transatlantic flight, it’s still pretty amazing to think how many people a commercial plane can carry. Now imagine how many books it could store. When the Jalisco Library in Guadalajara, Mexico, called for new building-plan submissions, New York architecture firm LOT-EK proposed stacking more than two hundred 727 and 737 fuselages on top of each other to form the library’s structure. The space inside each jet would hold book collections, meeting rooms and administrative offices. We wish the idea had been cleared for takeoff, but Jalisco ended up picking a more grounded proposal.

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