Santa Monica Architect, David Randall Hertz, Designs a Very Plane House

When architect David Hertz began building his latest private housing project, The Federal Aviation Administration got involved. They told Hertz he needed to put giant red X's on the roof so that airplanes flying overhead would not mistake the house for a plane crash site. The house that Hertz built used to be a Boeing 747.

David Hertz Architects Inc., Studio of Environmental Architecture (SEA), builds environmentally responsible private and commercial structures with an edgy, modern flair. He apprenticed with John Lautner, whom Hertz calls a "disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright" and an "iconoclast of organic architecture." He also worked for Frank Gehry before opening his own firm in 1983.  

Hertz spoke at SMC's Bundy campus last Thursday about sustainable housing. His lecture, sponsored by SMC's Center for Environmental and Urban Studies, was delivered to a packed audience consisting mostly of students. Mollie Ramos, an Interior Design student, was happy that her professor was making her class write an essay on the lecture. "It makes me make the time. This is something I want to do," said Ramos.  

Hertz opened his lecture with a slide that read "Earth: 4.6 billion years old. Life expectancy unknown," he said that during the short time humans have existed, rapid population growth has "usurped a lot of the primary resources on the planet."

"America, through its media, influences so much of the world," said Hertz. While America is developing the best technologies for itself, it imports the "worst and most obsolete" abroad. The waste and off-gases (Chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs) are causing ozone depletion, he said. "No matter how clean we are with our technologies, a lot of the issues that are before us are in the emerging countries, especially China and India."

Hertz started his first company, Syndesis Inc., in 1983 and developed what he calls a "contemporary terrazzo" design. By extracting materials from the waste stream like strawberry containers, tire scraps, copper wire and aluminum and mixing it with a lightweight concrete material called Syndecrete (which Hertz invented), he was able to make sculpture, furniture, flooring and walls from trash. For example, the corporate office of Rhino Records, Hertz used records, cassettes and VCRs to make floor tiles. Hertz said that old materials are better than new ones because "they have a story to tell."

His present company, SEA, has worked with Hollywood celebrities to help them realize the "tremendous impact" they have on teaching the public about sustainable practices. He hopes more celebrities and sports figures will speak out as Julia Louis-Dreyfus has done.

Louis-Dreyfus, who calls herself a "devout environmentalist and bleeding-heart liberal," commissioned Hertz to renovate her Santa Barbara beach house, making it a prime example of sustainability, according to the New York Times.

Hertz is currently building a private home for a client, located deep in the Santa Monica Mountains. Hertz wanted to preserve the existing topography and slope of the landscape, a cascading angle that reminded him of an airplane wing. He grappled with the difficulty of his design until a thought occurred to him, "What if I just try and use an airplane wing?" He superimposed a 47 x 125 ft. wing into his conceptual design and showed it to his client, who agreed to buy a Boeing 747 to finance Hertz's vision.  

Hertz thought about using the airplane as Native Americans used buffalo.  "Every part of that buffalo was left sacred and consumed," said Hertz. He wanted to use that ethos in his design, not wasting any part of the plane, and so his vision evolved. He decided to cut the plane into sections and use the pieces throughout the property. He bought a $200 million airplane for about $30,000, approximately "the price of a car," said Hertz.

The wings were moved at night from the desert in Victorville to the Camarillo airport. Five major freeways were shut down and the extra-wide load was accompanied by CHP police escort. The wings were cut at the airport and then transferred to the property using a Chinook helicopter. "You'd say," said Hertz, "‘Well, that's not very environmental. That's gonna burn a hell of a lot of gas in a short amount of time.'"

But he compared the resource expenditure of building his Wing House with the alternative of building a home from the ground up. A traditional house at a remote site, said Hertz, uses thousands of disparate pieces, 30 percent of which end up in the waste stream, delivered using huge amounts of gas and transportation shuttling workers and materials back and forth. He said that the amount of energy expended in two hours to ship the airplane wings was less than what would usually take a traditional home two years to accomplish via ground transport.

Hertz, quoting economist Kenneth Boulding, says that we must shift from a "cowboy mentality" which views resources as something to "round up" and "own" to a spaceman economy, where we are the ones on a journey and, like an astronaut, must be concerned about what we take with us, what we create and what we waste. On "spaceship earth," as Boulding calls it, nothing ever really goes away, and so Hertz is helping to prepare the way for a long voyage.