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Planes and Architecture: adding airspace to the wood, sea and desert


Christian Morgenstern was a German author and poet, who lived from 1871 to 1914 and witnessed the birth of manned flight. He predicted that “Aviation will give new nourishment to the religious spirit of mankind. It will add airspace to those other great heighteners of the cosmic mood: the wood, the sea, the desert.” Now home and business architecture is taking a new and surprising shape as aircraft are used in urban, forest, and desert settings – as homes or office space for out-of-the-box thinkers. Welcome to the coolest architectural trend of building with planes.

Upcycling on a cosmic scale

For a number of brave architects and individuals, the trend of upcycling – the creative reuse of waste or byproducts – goes way beyond turning vinyl records into wall clocks, as airplanes are increasingly used in architecture. California is dotted with “boneyards”, where retired aircraft are stored in corrosion-reducing desert conditions while they wait to be sold whole or used for spare parts. Since the aluminum fuselages are sold at a bargain price, they make excellent building material.

Planes as industrial and public spaces

Orange chairs and tables inside the Stockholm Jumbo Hostel
Orange chairs and tables inside the Stockholm Jumbo Hostel

Award-winning New York architectural design firm LOT-EK built a library from a recycled airplane fuselage in Guadalajara, western Mexico, before creating a student pavilion at the University of Washington in Seattle using a 60-foot section cut from between the wings and tail of a Boeing 747. The architecture is spectacular – the fuselage is held suspended in the air by a pipe cradle and accessed via a steel ramp. The interior has been stripped down to its aluminum rib cage and the floor’s metal grating filled with clear resin to display the entire circular section of the fuselage. What used to be the lower freight hold now accommodates a floor/seating system that rotates to three positions: floor, bench, and lounge.

Around the world, other airframes are getting a new lease on life as guesthouses and luxury accommodation – from the two-storey Toshikazu Tsukii's Guesthouse in Japan (comprised of parts from a Boeing 737, a Boeing 727 and two aging 707s) to the luxurious Airplane Suite engineered from an Ilyushin II-18 airplane in the Netherlands, which boasts a Jacuzzi, sauna, flat screen TVs and a mini-bar. Stockholm Arlanda International Airport’s Jumbo Hostel in Sweden offers stylish accommodation and a modern bar to 76 passengers, who only have a short walk or free shuttle ride to the terminal when they’re ready to take to the skies.

Of course, if you can sleep in it, you can eat in it. Aircraft are popping up all over the world as restaurants, including New Zealand’s Cookie Time Café housed in a Douglas DC-3. Discarded planes are also being used for other purposes – in Rustavi, Georgia, a Yakovlev 42 has been transformed into a kindergarten where kids can head off to class in a real, life-size airplane; while in Fort Lauderdale, the “Cosmic Muffin” is a Boeing B-307 that’s been converted to a boat.

Airplanes to call home

Outside view of 747 wing house designed by David Hertz in Malibu Santa Monica Mountains
Outside view of 747 wing house designed by David Hertz in Malibu Santa Monica Mountains

To some, aircraft are nothing more than a means to an end: cold, impersonal and purpose-driven aluminum hulks to get you from A to B. For others, they are sleek, graceful marvels of dreams and engineering that embody humanity’s quest to conquer the skies.

American author Richard Bach, famous for his bestselling novel Jonathan Livingston Seagull, fondly describes the relationships he’s developed with his planes: “I've owned 41 airplanes,” he says. “A few of them would talk with me... There's a spirit in anything, I think, into which we weave our soul. Not many pilots talk about it, but they think about it in the quiet dark of a night flight.”

Engineer Bruce Campbell described his conversion of a Boeing 727-200 into a home in the Oregon woods as a “labor of love”. Campbell, who bought the decommissioned plane and put it together again in a thicket of trees, has kept most of its original features and adapted his lifestyle to living aboard a plane. He uses the cockpit, with most of its original instrumentation and controls intact, as a reading room and has restored one of the original bathrooms. The cargo hold is used for storage and the wings as a deck.

Joanne Ussery of Benoit, Mississippi, converted her Boeing 727 in quite a different way. With limited funds and a need for space, her plane-home cost her $2,000 for the hull, $4,000 to transport it to her lot by the water, and $25,000 for refurbishments including hot running water and electricity, three guest bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, laundry and master bathroom with Jacuzzi.

Whether it’s a decommissioned Boeing 747 transformed into the now-famous modernist 747 Wing House by David Hertz Architects in Malibu or the true-to-its nature conversion of a Boeing 727 poised in the woods of Oregon, Campbell’s words ring true for an increasing number of visionary architects and brave homeowners: “Shredding a beautiful and scintillating jetliner is a tragedy in waste and a profound failure of human imagination.”

If the idea of spending time beneath the wings of a jet has you inspired but you can’t afford to take on your own plane conversion project, then private jet charter is a good option for your next business trip or holiday. Speak to our team, who will take you through the various options available to you.

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