Architecture Program


Date of this Version

Spring 5-8-2010


NAS Alameda_Economy Obsolete:

Obsolescence: a decline in the value of equipment or of a product brought about by an introduction of new technology or by changes in demand.

Obsolescence is a term of growing importance in the global economy today due to advancements in technology, changing economic conditions and evolving cultural and social desires. One does not have to search the city, the web, or even one’s immediate neighborhood very thoroughly before running across discarded cell phones, microwaves, and other common household goods. Once an object is outdated, it is replaced with its successor and abandoned. Personal consumer items are not alone in succumbing to this fate. For example, military and commercial sectors are also increasingly dealing with the issue of waste through the accumulation of outmoded¬¬ aviation technology. Both sectors currently are forced to deal with the storage of thousands of decommissioned aircraft.

As of June 2009, in the commercial sector alone, over 2800 jetliners had been grounded and awaiting to be decommissioned. By the year 2030, the air-industry estimates that an additional 12,000 jetliners will reach the end of their life-cycle and will need to be recycled. The top commercial aircraft recycling organizations presently state that aircraft recycling groups have processed over 6000 airplanes to date and will be able to recycle (based on their current abilities of 200 aircraft per year) only an additional 4000 planes by year 2030. Their data reveals a projected backlog of 9000 jetliners by year 2030 in excess of the current recycling capacity. The aircraft recycling industry is currently a profitable endeavor, with a net recycled value of approximately $7,000,000 per commercial jetliner. The fuselage of the aircraft, however, is among the least profitable components of an airliner, constituting less than a tenth of the overall recycled profit. Through this research, it becomes apparent that an unrealized architectural opportunity exists in the reuse and exploitation of the inherent technological and economical properties of an aircraft fuselage. This thesis proposes an architectural solution to aircraft obsolescence in the form of housing constructed from repurposed fuselages.

In addition to examining the air industry’s obsolete products, this thesis also explores the industry’s infrastructure waste. Across the United States, over 1400 abandoned airfields exist, out of which approximately 17% are classified as large sized airports, 45% are medium sized airports, and 37% are small sized airports. In an attempt to study obsolete artifacts and landscapes, this thesis utilizes the abandoned airfield as a site for executing a design case study. The large airport sites are the desirable selection for this project because of their ability to accommodate landing jumbo jets. These jets can then be flown in and disassembled on site to reduced transportation costs often associated with shipping raw building materials. Many opportunities for these sites exist across the United States, but this thesis proposes Naval Air Station (NGZ)/Alameda Airport as a case study for the project. The abandoned Alameda Airport is located directly north of the Oakland International Airport, on the San Francisco Bay and is currently the site of a mixed-use development masterplan by SunCal Companies. The proposed masterplan calls for 226 acres, out of 560 total acres, to be developed into 4503 housing units of varying densities. The project proposes using fuselages for the housing component of this masterplan. With this base plan, I have further analyzed the site conditions (including its flood plain, global water level increases, and seismic characteristics) as a means of determining how the aircraft fuselage can best be deployed on the site.

This thesis examines two central questions: how to develop the architectural use of an aircraft fuselage and how to utilize this element on a variety of different scales. While examples in the past have exploited the re-use of the fuselage on a scale of novelty and aesthetic form, this thesis aims to demonstrate that this building material can become part of an economically viable housing solution when compared to traditional building and development practices, in addition to the current alternative of recycling the product for scrap. This project examines both the tectonic opportunities of designing with a prefabricated aircraft fuselage and its application to dwelling units of varying scale. The inherent tectonic and structural advantage of the fuselage, combined with the abundance of large abandoned airfield sites across the nation and the availability of over 12,000 obsolete aircraft, this thesis project will serve as a case study for how to redevelop obsolete economies into efficient and viable design solutions.

Included in

Architecture Commons