Tara Murphy gripped a model Boeing 747 as architecture professor Harry Eggink talked about the jumbo jet’s 6 million parts and 150,000 pounds of high-strength aluminum. She studied the form as Eggink discussed the plane’s ability to endure 650-mph winds and extreme temperatures.
Her class, Aero-Studio, aims to demonstrate a second life for discarded airliners — including their engines, fuselages and wings — that are parked in “airplane graveyards” throughout the world’s deserts. Eggink challenges students to imagine structures that show the value of aeronautical engineering beyond flight.
As Murphy sat down to sketch, her mind drifted home to Henryville, Indiana, a town devastated in March 2012 by one of the country’s worst tornado outbreaks. Her family was unharmed, but more than 42 people — at least a dozen in Indiana — were killed by storms that tore through six states in two days, according to the National Weather Service. Property damage estimates neared $3 billion.
“Lots of towns were ripped apart, but Henryville received a lot of press because my school was destroyed after everyone — including my brother — was, thankfully, evacuated,” Murphy said. “When I went to the school’s grand reopening, it was eerie to walk through the same building, just with newer parts. I kept thinking if another tornado comes through, we can expect the same results. The class let me consider how to make the school safer.”
Visualizing what could be
The 24-year-old, who got her master’s in architecture in this spring 2016, spent the previous fall semester designing Henryville Jr.-Sr. High School from dimensions of Boeing 707, 737, 747 and 787 parts. Her fanciful yet practical design deflects tornadic winds and features two-story classrooms, sunlit social spaces and greenhouses made from jetliner ribcages.
“Beyond the fact that airplane parts are among the strongest and most resilient materials on the planet, I think incorporating them into architecture adds an element of education and inspiration,” she said. “Students at my school, for instance, would absorb the possibilities of sustainability while learning in an environment constructed from abandoned materials. The structures are by nature inventive and playful, which, I think, encourages people to explore and create. I wish this concept were a reality.”
Eggink couldn’t agree more.
For four years, he has challenged grad students to consider the reuse and resiliency of airplane parts. In 2014, he published “Aero-Architecture: A Second Life for Airplanes,” which details dozens of student projects yet to come to fruition.
Eggink, who has taught at Ball State since 1977, said he is ready for these mobile hospitals, floating homes and fireproof cabins to begin to add value to the world. He is collaborating with students on a second book that features more projects and strategies to overcome logistical obstacles, such as disassembling old airplanes at airports and avoiding the cost of retrieving parts from deserts.
“Thousands of old planes are just sitting out in deserts, and we have proven they can have a second life as an architectural component,” he said. “This generation is — and needs to be — focused on sustainability and resiliency. We are having more discussions with industry leaders, more interest from entrepreneurs and more exposure through art exhibits featuring our students’ work. The idea is gaining traction.”
Taking their ideas to Boeing
Each semester, the class visits Boeing facilities in Everett, Washington, to discuss concepts with aeronautical engineers, including Eggink’s brother, Roy, chief engineer for the 747-800, and the professor’s son, Hunter, a propulsion engineer. Eggink said the collaborations inform students about aero-technology and design methods while encouraging Boeing to consider uses for outdated models.
“We are the only university I know of doing this work, and we’re looking to collaborate with companies ready to break down old thinking and create solutions to make these designs a reality,” Eggink said. “Some students have already begun tackling the obstacles to aero-design, presenting, for instance, plans for airplane disassembly plants, which would make it easier to transport grounded planes to construction sites.”
Many designs would function in deadly conditions, such as hurricanes and fires. Students have imagined cabins that can withstand extreme temperatures and float during floods. Others could be dropped into disaster zones to offer shelter or aid.
Several ideas aim to improve everyday life in Indiana. Parinitha Visweshwar designed sustainable, energy-efficient mobile pods, or “Zoomers,” that could increase resources — think libraries, markets and health care — in disadvantaged areas of Indianapolis. Miguel Ramirez imagines urban dwellings, and Alexis Flowers designed an inner-city community center that literally folds in on itself.
Morganne Walker’s design transforms the bellies of 747s into bridges that could be used in and around Muncie when the need for replacement arises. With footlights and landscapes of native plants, plus the structure and mechanisms to lift themselves above floodwaters, these aero-bridges are a practical yet imaginative way to connect the city.
“Bridges fall into disrepair, so it got me thinking of all the possibilities to extend the natural world onto a bridge and to provide a structurally sound, lasting passageway. Something like this could really encourage residents to get out and enjoy the outdoors, ultimately building community.”
The concept of reusing aircraft builds upon a tradition of sustainable design the College of Architecture and Planning champions through curricular projects and community partnerships.
“This studio is just one example of how we are challenging students to rethink, adapt and innovate to address the challenges of future environments,” Eggink said. “Our changing world is requiring architects to ask new questions and imagine new solutions.”
And while few of his students plan to dedicate their professional lives to aero-design, the course has encouraged many, including Murphy, to explore careers in sustainable design. The creativity and satisfaction of transforming discarded materials into stunning, stable structures, she said, has caused her to question the accepted and consider the unimagined.
“It was inspiring to see what my classmates and I, as well as students before us, came up with from a bunch of materials wasting away in the desert,” Murphy said. “Think of all the structures we could improve or build and all the lives we could enrich or save through the thoughtful reimagining of what some consider junk. Treasures can truly emerge from trash. You just have to be open to seeing the possibilities.”