A jumbo architectural project by any measure

Santa Monica - A wealthy California woman is set to turn a Boeing 747 jet into a house on some of the most exclusive real estate in the world.

Francie Rehwald wanted a house that was environmentally friendly and "feminine". Architect David Hertz, a specialist in using recycled materials, said Rehwald was stunned when he recommended an old 747, the biggest commercial aircraft in service.

The jumbo jet cost about $40 000 from a cemetery for more than 1 500 scrap airliners in the California desert.

The jet is to be moved in parts to a 22-hectare site in the Malibu Hills near the Pacific Ocean and Rehwald admits the final cost will be several million dollars.

The wings will be the main house. The cockpit will become a meditation temple, the jet's trademark hump will become a loft and the remaining scrap will be used for more buildings.

"The whole idea stated very seriously, about a beautiful, sublime architectural piece. It's not just living in an airplane," said Hertz, who runs a design firm in Santa Monica, near Los Angeles.

"The client just asked me to create something that was curvy and feminine," he added, noting the site had a beautiful view toward a mountain range.

"To build - that would have been very expensive, so I started to think: 'Well, there is something that does that much better, that's a wing,' and then we started to superpose different aircraft wings on the site to find the best size and shape."

"When you look at them, they are very curvy, very soft, and very feminine and thin."

Finding an old version of the 70-metre-long jet was easy in California because of the desert scrapyard.

Rehwald, whose family set up the first Mercedes-Benz concession in California, bought the 28th of the approximately 1 430 Boeing 747s built up to now. It was delivered in 1970 to TWA and finished its flying time with Tower Air 30 years later.

The architect needs permission from 17 government agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), for the project, which still needs final planning permission.

Hertz hopes construction will start in June.

The jet will be cut up and taken in parts by road to the Malibu Hills and then taken by helicopter to the site. "It is thrilling to imagine this wing becoming a roof," said Rehwald.

The roof, however, will have to be registered with the FAA and a red cross painted on it so that planes flying over do not mistake the house for a crashed jet.

The house will incorporate many state-of-the-art energy saving devices, including special air conditioning and a rain-collection system.

"This project embodies a lot of a philosophies in architecture I've been interested in for many, many years," said Hertz.

"It deals with prefabrication, recycled content.

"Think about the airplane as a giant aluminium can. It's 100 percent recyclable product. It represents an abandoned infrastructure unutilised, billions of dollars of research and development that went into the plane, a 200-million dollar airplane, that you can buy for 40 000 dollars." - Sapa-AFP

Article by: Tangi Quemener