David Hertz, Decreasing Environmental Impact with Regenerative Architecture (#185)

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David Hertz is the founder of David Hertz Architects and has focused for the last 37 years on regenerative architecture, which means creating architecture that ultimately gives back more than it takes. Men have had a tremendous impact on our planet, which stems from the belief that we can take anything from nature, use it to make something, and then just waste it. That is very different than how Nature operates, where waste equals food.

With his work, David Hertz is constantly working on decreasing the environmental impact of architecture, creating architecture that better integrates with our planet. Together with his wife, he has also founded Skysource.org, with which he won the Water Abundance XPRIZE with the invention WEDEW.

Creating Water From Thin Air With WEDEW

Growing up in Southern California, David has always been connected to water and became active in issues of water quality and access. That culminated with the invention of Skysource WEDEW, which is a mobile generator that produces fresh drinking water directly from thin air. This is an example of regenerative architecture, as it mimics nature’s concept that waste equals food. In fact, WEDEW is powered by waste such as discarded plants, animal material, or wood chips; it heats up, and it releases water vapor. Following this, the generator condenses the vapor into drinkable water.

WEDEW was also selected as one of Time’s Best Inventions of 2020.

And now here’s David Hertz.

Full transcript below

Video on Decreasing Environmental Impact with Regenerative Architecture.

Watch David Hertz’s TEDx Talk About Architecture & Materials

Visit DavidHertzFAIA.com to Learn About Regenerative Architecture

Get Sustainability Consulting to Decrease the Environmental Impact of Your Architecture

Visit Skysource.org to Discover WEDEW, The Energy-Water Generator

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Podcast with David Hertz. Decreasing Environmental Impact with Regenerative Architecture.


work, built, water, people, biomass, architecture, architect, create, xprize, challenge, material, client, wing, house, concrete, abundance, containers, project, prize, david


Mike Malatesta, David Hertz

Mike Malatesta  00:17

Hey David, welcome to the show.


Thank you. Happy to be here.

Mike Malatesta  02:11

I’m been looking forward to talking with David hertz since January, when I first became aware of him. And for folks who’ve listened to the show before, you’ve heard me talk. Time and again about abundance 360 and about Peter Diamandis and about all the cool things that I’ve learned in the couple of years that I’ve been a part of the program. And one of the things that Peter is involved in, I guess, sort of outside of abundance 360 is involved in a lot of stuff but sort of connected to a two is the XPRIZE, and we were just on a previous episode talking with Rob psych, who is also an abundance 360 member who is sort of considering getting, you know, putting his hat in the ring on the newest X PRIZE David which is the carbon. Carbon removal XPrize that Eli Musk is is sponsoring but I have never ever had the opportunity to talk to someone who’s actually won the XPRIZE, as you and your wife have so I’m really looking forward to, to getting to that and of course to your whole career as well. So, David, I start every podcast with the same simple question. How did it happen for you.


Yeah, I think, you know it’s a it’s a process, rather than an event. Sure, I mean I, I grew up in good fortune, and in terms of so many ways which is it’s kind of a miracle. I mean, that we’re all here that were alive that we made the swim and. And then I had two great parents. My father’s a doctor and an author and a sculptor, my mom and artists so in a lot of ways, my, my background as an architect is emerging of science and art. And I also really had an early connection to nature. I grew up in Southern California, I grew up surfing. Surfing was always healing for me, I grew up with, with a severe kind of eczema as a child so the ocean was one of the only places where I really found solace and connected with nature, and the ocean surfing and I started off really first as an environmentalist, and then ultimately I had to rationalize my place in the world. As someone who’s part of the built environment which is very destructive and decided to stay within my passion of the built environment but how do I lessen the impact of the built environment on the natural world, and that’s what I’ve been doing for 37 years as an architect, with a kind of boutique practice that really specializes in regenerative architecture, architecture that ultimately gives back more than it takes, and have been involved with some other investigations and inventions I invented a advanced cement based composite in the early 80s and built that company over 20 years and sold it to a large public company in 2006. And I like to joke. I’ve been practicing architecture, you know, until all that money is gone. Architecture is really a passion, and, and, and the water abundance XPrize was, you know, just it seemed very interesting because in Southern California, or acutely aware of the importance of water, and I just started to study water and and realize what an amazing substance and I suppose I actually had started in my small office and then that’s right off the Venice boardwalk where we have a lot of homelessness. During a sustained six year drought, where the county had kind of turn off a lot of the facilities that homeless were using for water. And I kind of began to be aware that there’s a lot of water in our atmosphere, and I developed a small atmospheric water generator using solar energy incorporated street or put it in my alley right off the Venice boardwalk, and then put a bottle filling station and just offered free water. The idea is really about the democratization of water, not the commodification of it sold to us in plastic bottles, but, you know, big corporations, why shouldn’t water be free and available to all. And that just put me in a unique position to compete for the Waterman XPRIZE,

Mike Malatesta  07:04

and that. So you got to lay down a bunch of stuff there so it’s crazy, we got a lot of places to go, but I want to focus on the free water so that you said you may, you create a sore muscle solar powered generator for, so where it was it was bad actually like sort of the pilot for what became the we do, which we’ll get into what that is or was it something completely different but started your, your, your SIR brain working on this this bigger, how to how to how to create water in places where there is no water, not just due to a drought, there’s just no water.


Right. It was kind of a early stage prototype, but the final derivation of it for the XPrize definitely changed, and advanced from from that point but the ideas around democratization of water of around point of use water solutions versus centralized water solutions that require transportation of water long distances, a great energy cost was definitely the impetus of it, and continues to be the impetus of it, post X Prize and into implementation and how we can kind of create social and environmental projects. It’s just the kind of series of services that that have come, organized, and offering more than water, it offers energy he refrigeration. Okay sure, carbon sequestration, you know, and a host of other things that route. We’re using natural system thinking to create a kind of a cascade of power and a virtuous cycle of benefits. And, you know it’s it’s antithetical to the way that some of our systems are now, they’re not named yourbase that end up leading to a lot of negative consequences. And these ends up having a series of positive consequences. Okay,

Mike Malatesta  09:15

let me ask you a question about the, the homelessness, you know, you see this need and, And you create a solution for it that’s not, it’s different than handing out water bottles to people, which is maybe the path that most people would take, or think to take in, but I’m also wondering about the cause. And this may be my ignorance or it may be just but a lot of people, I feels like, want to help homeless people, but they don’t necessarily want homeless people coming to their place of work, in order to assist them, because they may be. Well, you know, you walk through a city, you don’t want to be the store where people are homeless people are, are, you know camped out at your place so I’m just curious how you dealt with it whether you felt that way or how you dealt with it because if you’ve got employees and I don’t know so I’m just curious.


Yeah so, I mean it’s definitely an issue but the reality in our community was, there’s a lot of homeless in our alley. Anyway, okay. And so wasn’t really a nuisance in terms of attracting homeless and what we found in this kind of social experiment


was that,


Generally it’s the, it’s the kind of residences or businesses that are the most controlling where there becomes the most divisiveness where the homeless tend to aggregate. So, if you’re actually supportive, then you find that you can work within that ecosystem where there’s a self governance and self policing going on, so it’s very interesting that are building on our street, especially during COVID is the only building that doesn’t have a homeless encampment in front of it, because you know they’re homeless, police, because they see that we’re helping contributing,

Mike Malatesta  11:13

right. Oh, very interesting. Okay. Oh I like that so they’ve kind of creep. Yeah, that’s really cool. Oh, thank you for sharing that I’m glad I asked a question because I wasn’t, I wasn’t sure where that was gonna go, and I didn’t think it was gonna go there. Um, this, I guess, first let’s go to surfing. When you mentioned the eczema eczema and with surfing salt water maybe helped with that condition but tell me where your parents surfers as well and the rest of your, your siblings, if you have any, and I guess I’m really interested because I’ve never served, but I’m really interested in this, how it made you feel, and not just your skin but inside because it seemed like it was an experience that was maybe physical but also way more than physical and it’s something you continue to do today as I understand,


yes. I mean I think the ocean is, you know, it’s such an immersive experience that you can leave the terrestrial or whatever, you know, like, especially anks, and anger that you know a lot of young kids have growing up. It’s a way to kind of, it’s a universal solvent, you know, in a way it just washes off these. These cares, and, and it also is humbling because you know you’re, you’re putting yourself in a kind of mysterious place where you don’t really know what to believe beneath the surface, and more there are forces into, you know, physical forces have tides and currents and waves and. And I’m just really compelled by that the older I get, you know, the, the more fascinating. I am with that, and whether it’s a kind of blue mind state or it’s the negative I don’t know whether there’s a physical emotional state, but it’s a pretty incredible experience and then to actually challenge that and it doesn’t necessarily have to be salt water I mean I just took 25 friends to the Kelly Slater wave pool in the middle of the desert, and it was freshwater but you know it was just such an amazing bonding experience to all kind of do our own dance on on these waves that are completely manmade.

Mike Malatesta  13:51

So it’s kind of like, there’s a way to harness the power of the waves but never control them sort of, it’s like an experience that probably familiar because you probably go to the same areas a lot but it’s always the familiarity is always, Maybe just a, I don’t know. It can be, what’s the word I’m looking for the familiarity can be masking something completely unexpected.


Yeah, or, or the familiarity, you know, as the one constant, it becomes the thing that shows the uniqueness, right, because, if every, every experience, if every place was unique. You might not be as aware of the subtleties of how varied those subtleties are based on the constant.

Mike Malatesta  14:48

And this, this concrete. Well, is it sin to Crete is that what it’s called.


Yeah, since this,

Mike Malatesta  14:56

so what was the idea. Well, I know what the idea was, but how did you come to create that material and then accompany around it because I’m, I’m kind of thinking like fly ash has been recycled for in some form for a while, but it’s still, I mean I live in the Midwest, they’re still not making concrete out of 100%, or close to 100% recycled materials it’s still stone, sand, you know, cement, it’s a it’s almost like efforts to put flashin or or other types of waster. Well, they’re just like resistance, you know, so how did you get so in the end you did this a long time ago How did, where’d the idea come from, how did you get it off the ground.


You know I think like a lot of things, It just, I just wasn’t happy with what was available to me as an architect. That, that, you know, there were just certain products that were kind of manufactured like a sink or bathtub or fireplace or planner or tile, you know, you would just pick them out of the catalog and I you know, that we had lost our way in terms of craft, and I had worked in construction with concrete I worked for an architect named John Wagner who’s worked with Frank Lloyd Wright who did a lot of work with concrete. And so I, I just was fascinated with this as a medium, because it’s kind of sculpture in reverse, it’s, it’s a negative process you’re building something you’re filling it up and it’s, in some ways it’s, it’s kind of an additive manufacturing process that people talk about today, you know whether rather than taking something in subtracting something away which yields waste. So, it was just this, you know, fascinating process but I felt ultimately limited with respect to the weight and the fragility of normal concrete and said, you know, How can I have more control over this so I don’t have to do things on site, like it pre caps everything off site in a controlled manner. Now it needs to be lighter, but it needs to be strong enough to carry but I have a lot more control and so I started to look for lightweight aggregates and alternatives to sand and rock gotten into volcanic materials that are already calcite so they’re essentially expanded, things like gentle spheres that are spherical and hollow but very strong really looked at the kind of clustering and packing of materials and gotten into fly ash, you know, which has basically been around since the invention of concrete with, you know, with Mount Vesuvius, and, you know, and using with the Romans using the volcanic ash. And then I started looking at reinforcements using postconsumer carpet fibers are billions of pounds of carpet taken wasted each year and then ultimately develop this aggregate, out of all recycled materials so I work a lot with companies and their own waste stream and things like discontinued records or buttons or zippers like Patagonia or Sony, you know, computer parts and electronic components so I, I got very interested in what we take making waste in our society, and started really mining the waste stream. And. And then, and I think any process that one goes through is, you know, kind of a your own sense of self discovering in the process or


anyone material.


And so, so, yeah, it’s very different. In a way, I mean, that’s been many years since I had sold that and, and, but I was very interested even in the early 80s of the idea of carbon sequestration in concrete because carbon is the number one man made, you know, waste byproduct it’s affecting climate change and concrete is the number one man made material so if you can get these two together. There’s a lot of synergies

Mike Malatesta  19:28

in the production process was. You mentioned buttons and other things so I don’t know where those sort of aggregate replacements I’m trying to figure out how this decorative decorative, oh,


oh cool break corrupt drops are where I write these things down so I add all these things into the material. And that, that started with an accident, you know, as a lot of things do. I was, I was grinding these materials down and trying to achieve a finer and finer level of refinement and uniformity to the point where we started to lose the character in how we’re at risk of losing the character of what we were doing in the first place. You know because people wanted it to be uniform, and I bought a plastic wheelbarrow, and it was new and there was a spiral piece of, of this plastic that came out in the mix. And when we grounded down, and ended up with this blue plastics, swirl, which was, you know, seen as a complete imperfection. And then it just sparked an idea so well that’s actually really interesting. What if we put more plastic squirrels in there and you know shavings and so I started going around to manufacturers to say hey well what kind of scrap, do you have, there’s a brass screw manufacturer up the street and a plastics recycler and, you know, computer guy and Joe I just started gathering these things and to essentially seeding them in the material grinding them down and exposing them and made you know all of these really interesting contemporary aggregates out of our waste stream.

Mike Malatesta  21:17

I ended, so did other. How long did it take that to catch on David did other people think you were sort of nuts or did they think, oh my gosh this is like a one of a kind thing that I can’t get anywhere else and so it kind of took off as being really special or what. Or maybe there was a transition


and evolutionary process I started really as, you know, it was when I got out of architecture school, like the old joke at the time was, you know, what do you call an architect, I was like waiter, because that was the only job opportunity, nobody was building. And so I had to kind of innovate and, and I use my, I basically started by, I had a piece of glass that was leftover from an old ugly table and I wanted to make a base for it. And so I just made of form out of concrete poured concrete, like 16 bucks, something and made this table with this concrete way with a sheet of glass cantilevered out over it. And then I started making other furniture in this, well I’m kind of as a very young architect I could, I could have a certain control and immediacy of the process that I couldn’t have been buildings and I could get people to trust me to maybe make a piece of furniture, instead of a whole building. And so I started to design furniture really as fine art, and exhibited that my work was in the Museum of Modern Art and, you know, all around the world. And so I started off really as a kind of sculptor making furniture under commissions and public sculpture, and then, because of the weight, I started to look at lightweight alternatives. And then that gave me a root realm into countertops and tiles and bathtubs and, and a whole host of our product division where I made, you know, point of views products and, you know, commercial products in the gap and, you know other people. So, yeah, it just, I think the lesson that I learned is, you know, you have to take the first step, and then once you take the first step, things start to unfold. So if you’re going to work with a material. Then, you know, there’s all kinds of things I think the other thing is, why is that I’ve always been a little bit more fascinated in the process than the end product, it’s kind of boring to me like it would have made more sense for me just to, you know scale this thing and just make tiles all day long and, you know, but I was less interested in making money, and in the reputation and more interested in reinventing the wheel and doing something that was challenging. Every time and I think it’s always been the challenging projects that I get the most excited by

Mike Malatesta  24:12

yeah like using 747 wings on a house, maybe that’s a little bit of a challenge I’d like to get into that a little bit but before we do the what. So when was it that someone trusted you to build a whole house for them because I’m trying to I’m thinking to myself, you start making furniture sculpture beautiful pieces of art for people’s homes and other things. It’s, You know you get into these museums like a lot of people would say like, okay, that’s, that’s good enough you know that’s a great place for me to sort of hang out and just do what I want and be successful that way. Yeah.


And you know you see a lot of artists spend their entire careers, just, you know, doing the same thing and it’s frankly there’s somewhat of a commercial trap to that. Do any artists right, I mean if you if you’re successful, you know band, you know your agents and everybody want you to make that same music. And if you’re a successful painter and someone buying it because you know oh that’s a Rothko and I want to show people that I have a Rothko, I don’t want that rock it’ll look like it’s not a Rothko. And, and so, you know there’s a kind of trap that happens, you know, within between commercialism and in hard, and, but, but, you know, there’s no question that sticking with one thing and doing that, you know, over and over, you could build a kind of a more successful commercial practice. And I’ve, I’ve, I’ve just put a little bit more personal emphasis on the challenge not defining a you know a style per se that, you know everybody you know some people can say oh that said like a David hertz house but one David hertz house could look very different than another David hertz house, based on either, You know my interest at the time or the specifics of the client or the site. And, and that’s been the challenge. But I’ve always in process I guess over product.

Mike Malatesta  26:22

It’s kind of in I’m no expert in architecture, but it seems kind of unique to because you mentioned Frank Lloyd Wright, so there’s a lot of Frank Lloyd Wright homes in Wisconsin where I’m where I am. And while they may all be different, they’re all, you know, you look at them and you say oh yes that’s a Frank Lloyd Wright home because of x, you know, A, B and C. But it seems like your approach has been, I don’t you know I, I want to build what I want to build or I want to build what the client wants wants to build and I, it doesn’t matter to me if it looks like something that I built before. This is, this project, a new project is that on the right path there. Yeah, I mean, I think,


I think that’s why Frank Lloyd Wright was kind of clastic I mean there was no uniquely American architecture. Yeah. You know, I mean, we came from Europe has gone fast and, you know, we just did, what say Europe had like there was a reason that you know the tutor roof has a steep roof to shreds. Now it’s not. Maybe appropriate in California.


Yeah okay,


you know, like why do we have these styles there there’s a certain simulacra of just the style it’s just the decorated box with a different style. And I think Frank Lloyd Wright said well why are we not making architecture that’s unique to its place, made out of the materials and, you know, Wisconsin and, and, you know, whether you did obviously in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin was, you know, he grew up, kind of in a farming family and was really interested in, in the plains, you know to war in the plains, we create a horizontal architecture that deals with the horizontality the plains and we should use natural materials and we should be aware of nature, and, and follow the path of the sun and it was really, you know, quite revolutionary and ahead of his time and radical in that mindset, and you know we created organic architecture as of, which is still, you know, I think, again, most, most architecture is still conventional style based architecture. So, but I think there’s been a huge resurgence and in the idea of organic architecture, and, and people feel in terms of residential architecture in particular really connected to nature that way.

Mike Malatesta  28:58

And I want to go back to when you were a kid, I think, because you you mentioned, you know, sort of being an environmentalist or you had an environmentalist mindset from a young age, maybe that’s was an impact from your family growing up, or maybe it’s just something you came upon but I, you said you said, you know, at some point you realize that you know you had to live in a built environment. I think that’s something that’s, I think that’s what you said a built environment, and I guess I’m wondering, when was the connection between women, when did it dawn on you that you wanted to become an architect or build things or, you know, go the path, you ended up going


oh yeah that ties into your question I didn’t answer to about my first house, and first house I was I was commissioned at 19, and I finished, you know, when I was 21, and my client is still there, self sufficient house in the desert, Nevada, actually just reached out to me on Facebook, after so many years and it was pretty amazing to, to hear that she’s still there and

Mike Malatesta  30:13

so that’s like 40 years off


the grid. Yeah. Wow, yeah. So, so, I was interested in architecture pretty early, I mean, my dad was a tinkerer and an inventor and surgeon but he you know he was always we were always in the workshop so some of my earliest memories are being on the garage floor looking up at him in the workbench and remodeling and tearing things apart and building things and go into the lumber yard and he did that with his father, his father built a whole western town in the Santa Monica Mountains, now part of the National Historic registry called Paramount Ranch, most of it burned to the Woolsey fire recently and my brother and I are are helping to work with the National Park Service to rebuild it and fundraising efforts, but, but, you know, that was all built. And my grandfather, kind of grew up somewhat orphaned in New York and ended up doing a lot of metal recycling and started a modeling business and during World War Two he patented a machine and remanufactured bottle caps. So, it’s actually, you know, there’s a couple parallels that I’m becoming more aware of that, you know, we think we’re doing things in our own path, but there seems to be some history I mean there’s, there’s been a history of recycling there’s been a history of repurposing there’s been a history of interacting within the kind of movie industry to create a you know a set and you know my California Keishon house which I did in Venice, many years ago was the main scene for that television series with David coveting. And then, where I live now, Lana bayou and Malibu is, is, is a whole movie ranch that was built by this Fantasticks scenic designer named Tony do cat and I’ve been restoring all of the sets and creating a kind of retreat center. Out of these things and it’s adjacent to the 747 wing house, which you referenced earlier, which was the other half of the Tony to get a state. And he, he was a master of repurposing, and Wainhouse was about radical, reuse, and recycling. And so I guess, you know, all these things are inner weaving, you know, these, these interest and upbringings, but I was always interested in building things that I was always interested in kind of the meaning of making craftsmanship, and an architecture seemed to be a perfect field and I, I was cutting classes in high school and going to architecture school with a mentor of mine that I used to do, you know, carpentry and wood. You know our wood floors and build furniture with, And he was in architecture school and I just started cutting class and going to architecture school.

Mike Malatesta  33:28

So, okay, now you got, so would you walk me through the process, whether it’s the 747 house or any of the homes or any of the things that you’ve built. I’m just really curious how the collaboration with the client and the whole process sort of starts. Because, you know, I, I would never have the vision, I guess to do many of the many of the types of work that you, you’ve done or that your clients have done like this, Tony do ketamine I would never. Well, maybe now I would after I’ve met you and since more of these things and heard about it, but I’m really curious how the process goes what type of person, and what the collaboration is like if there’s if you can describe it in a typical way maybe, maybe you can’t, I don’t know.


Well every clients different, but it’s absolutely a collaborative and iterative process. I mean the client has to go along with the idea they’ve got to find the idea they have to be willing to take the risk and be adventurous so without the client I mean you really don’t have anything but the, you know, in the case of the wing house, I just it was just kind of an organic idea that I just stood on this amazing site looking at this mountain range and just imagined a floating roof, the only thing the client had asked is that I love your work but it’s very masculine it’s very kind of more sag and all and maybe planar and I want something more feminine which was an interesting challenge I hadn’t really thought about it in that way. And so I thought about this light kind of floating thin roof that, you know, had a very strenuous line and was graceful, strong, and, and I just proposed.


I began


by photographing an airplane, I literally I got the commission I was going on a trip I was flying and I started taking a telephoto lens and photographing the kind of soft curvilinear form of an airplane which I just noticed in a different way. And then I thought, you know the wing is an incredibly strong, floating shade. And I actually started the idea with this idea of a floating roof that was wing like and then I said why not just use a wing, you know wings already engineered to be incredibly strong use materials in the most efficient manner with the highest strength and lightest way. And I remember seeing all of these tales of airplanes, kind of desiccating in the desert of obsolescence California deserts and so I kind of first started to show my client like Is this what you mean by feminine and they were just zoomed in close ups of of the airplane, and they were undeniably feminine then I zoomed out and said well you know the airplanes, super feminine you don’t think of it that way but what if what if we just kind of get these giant wings and float them over the landscape and just put glass and, and, to her credit, she said let’s go look at him and so we went out to the desert stood under the wings. Oh my god these are just beautiful. So we bought a 747 or she bought us some 47 and then we cut it up and close by freeways and brought it to a local airport, cut in half and use a Chinook helicopter to carry the wing halves to the site and then crane them into place, reached up and grabbed him at the engine mountains and enclosed in the glass.

Mike Malatesta  37:13

Wow. just a little bit of logistics there.


Yeah, we had 17 governmental agencies through about a year and a half. And as we were inquiring post 911. As to the structural properties of 747 Pretty soon we got a visit from Homeland Security I want to know what her interest was ended up working with some agencies to kind of do some airflow dynamic, on, on the project which was interesting, had to work with it, FAA, so it’s not seen, you know, seen as a downed aircraft, and the flight pattern. So, you know, some multiple agencies and I think that’s part of what I enjoy, you know the at the end of every no as a yes, kind of idea that, you know that you’re dealing, there’s something challenging about dealing with bureaucracy which is inherently risk adverse. So like how do you get something done right, you know, that’s, and how do you do something that’s never been done before, within an incredibly restrictive query obviously how do you kind of use those rules to still do something else like whether you can, you know you’re. It’s almost scary, you know, because it’s like oh my god what am I going to come up with, you know, right or expression, but for, for me as an architect, it’s like okay, well how do I use all of these. These confines, and come up with something creative, I have a budget, I’ve got to say, I’ve got physics I’ve got, you know, all these systems, you know I like the creative problem solving, of, you know, kind of, you know, actual things, and then ultimately into, into a form and project that is similar to the wing house and that way. I just finished on the island of backway and St Vincent and the Grenadines for a British couple, and they built the house, kind of inspired by an old wooden ship. And we bought a pier in Borneo, how to iron wood. I designed and extruded our own aluminum in Java. And then, pre assemble the entire buildings in Bali and shifted team containers to the Caribbean and then assembled it as a kit of parts with the rooms all being these huge tensile membranes that collect all of its own water. They’re all open air, and it’s a really beautiful indoor outdoor relationship that has like the rigging of sailboats and mast and, but the warmth of wood. And so that was a heroic act with German engineers and Indonesians and Caribbean’s and British clients and. And then that was like the logistical challenge and, you know, we brought a 747 to Burning Man, You know, and use it as a giant art car so, you know, there’s all kinds of logistics around this i guess i I’m challenged by the logistical things and, in, in the unconventional aspects of

Mike Malatesta  40:30

that assembling the this newest home from all these containers is that more difficult than if it was built on site I’m just thinking everything, you know sometimes when you build on site you can sort of make adjustments and stuff but you have to have everything sort of just right to assemble it or,


yeah, Yeah Well, part of the beauty of it is that you know like if you have two pieces of aluminum it’s perfectly square and you have one tool, you know, they’re like, going to be 90 degrees like it was a kid apart. It was all pre manufacturing that actually was a lot easier in a way to assemble the big challenges that that doesn’t have any forgiveness, and that has to fit on a foundation, which, you know, built by the Caribbean’s, you know, you know, looser way than you know the German engineer precise engineering so you have to kind of design in a kind of way in which those do can be compatible. And the,

Mike Malatesta  41:32

the 747 house that was the first time that you that that had ever been done anywhere, right, and which is amazing. And so I’m wondering, the client after I’m assuming it’s a woman after she’s at home. Does she have any privacy David because I would think that people would be coming, you know, from all over the world to see this and run by this.


Well fortunately she has a large property, okay. And it’s very private, and that’s why you can also be be all glass. Large the all glass. So yeah, that’s a unique, unique in that in that way. Actually, I was going to just start our background and show you that Wainhouse so that’s that’s the wing house where you, what you see is the left, left and right wings and then masterbedroom which is the third wing level is, are made from the two horizontal tail stabilizers, and they’re all, they’re all put together. So you can see how, how, you know, it goes from about, like, eight feet thick here to, you know, a couple inches, then, so it’s a really dynamic sculptural piece and the way in which the forms interact and the way you move around it, it has a lot of very different views. And so that was, it’s funny now I live right next door and I kind of get different glimpses of it. Oh nice, that’s, that’s really been been been wonderful to to be there and so sometimes will we do events and things where we’ll pack open up the two properties together. This is another view that shows it kind of can we bring out over the hill. Yeah, So that’d be it looks so different, you know that here’s a couple other views, you know, of the wings. So, it’s, it’s a bit about radical reuse and repurposing it’s sculpture. It integrates well into the landscape. This is a big engine cowling that is used as a, as a fire element.

Mike Malatesta  43:58

So you used a bunch of that plane. You didn’t just yeah we have


other structures that we’re actually currently building out of the fuselage sections.

Mike Malatesta  44:08

Now I know why the FAA wanted to, you know where they might mistake as a downed aircraft you know it’s kind of in the middle of, you know, a huge piece of property and you see, huh. Yeah,


so you know flying over that it has to be, it has to be mapped. So that. Yeah, that was, that was really a wonderful challenge and again to go back to your question, I mean it takes a client that has the willingness to take, take the risk to. To do that, this is, this is the sale house project I was just okay. And we see it all these, these blow flung pretends our membranes, the hot air comes out of the top of the building and the rain keeps out of the top and then it’s all collected all the rain is collected into the foundations. This is kind of a view, you know, of the mast, like elements. Oh, I’m not sure if you’re seeing those.

Mike Malatesta  45:13

I think I can see


where you’re seeing the backgrounds changed yeah

Mike Malatesta  45:19

yeah yeah yeah okay great, yes.


And so yeah, there’s, there’s different, different views and again I have a couple of those. But yeah, it’s you know it’s really appropriate to it’s to incite the prefabricated nature their clients are our sailors. And so it’s like living on a kind of a land in a way. So, it might just happen to have a couple background shots, really prepared as a slideshow, but that’s okay.

Mike Malatesta  46:05

Yeah, how do you manage a project like that, did you do have to go and live there for some period of time or, or. Can you do it from California or how do you.


Yeah, we do it all from California, I mean we, you know I it’s really great to take projects that involve some travel and interesting places so I mean going to Indonesia and Java we did a lot of our early design work on a old wooden boat called the phinisi. In Indonesia, you know, said Why sit in a hotel room, when you could just, you know, we’re kind of moving on to this, right. And so, so, yeah, we had to do some travel there, I was actually supposed to be on back way right now, photographing the project. And, and, but the volcano and St Vincent has been amazing, that difficult for us.

Mike Malatesta  47:13

That’s a nice piece that you have up there now,


that’s a night night view.


Yeah that’s fantastic see


the wouldn’t wouldn’t know. And the mash the rigging and the water collection systems. So, yeah, they’re there, there’s always work. I mean it takes it takes, it’s all collaborative, you know, I can only come up with kind of the big ideas and then I work very closely with my project, architects and project managers and clients and consultants, you know it takes a whole team to pull these projects off.

Mike Malatesta  47:53

So as if you don’t have enough things going on. This X Prize for water abundance comes along, million and a half dollar X PRIZE I think it was in 2018 or 2017 when it came along, I don’t, I don’t know exactly, but what, what makes you want to throw your hat in the ring on that, because for Sofer, well, why don’t you explain what it, what, how it actually works because I could explain it but that would be dumb when you’ve actually done it.


Sure. Well, so, you know, for most people that maybe they don’t know, though, the XPrize is basically taking off on the idea of an incentive prize that has a kind of forced multiple that, you know, proposes that if we have a challenge like a global challenge. Why don’t we create an incentive prize to someone to try to get that challenge but the, the impacts on that challenge will be exponential because, you know, let’s say, 100 teams competing they’re all putting in money, then there’s going to be more advancement to promoting that kind of nasty technology or that global challenge so if Ilan puts up $100 million. That’s going to be enough incentive that it’s going to probably get, you know, billions of dollars to have investment in that in that space. In the case of the water abundance XPrize The challenge was to look at, you know, a global crisis of water scarcity. When you think about water on our planet. It’s quite amazing, you know, we have about only point to 2% Less than a quarter percent of all the water on the planet is drinkable. It’s only evenly distributed. Most of the water is salt frozen. So when you think about water and vapor form. There are six times more water in the atmosphere at any given time, right at the point of use. And then all the rivers in the on the planet, so. So, how do you harness that and how do we address water scarcity. The United Nations says in the next 10 years, demand for water is going to outstrip supply by 40%, that’s, you know, that’s going to have a huge threat multiple that’s going to force competition for even sorbet, migration, food, I mean it’s the essence of life,

Mike Malatesta  50:32

certainly not the democratization,


certainly not the democratization and, and, and, you know, I think what Peter Diamandis, talks about, you know, in his book abundance is an interesting premise and that is that perhaps there are enough resources on the planet to feed everyone. We just haven’t been smart enough as a human species to figure out how to do that efficiently, you know, and when you think about our current systems they’re incredibly inefficient and incredibly wasteful. And the idea of atmospheric water is very compelling. So the idea was to create an international challenge to make 2000 liters of water from air in 24 hours using 100% renewable energy and a cost that cannot be more than two cents per liter. And there were over 100 teams in 27 countries. And what was interesting about it is, we, we were not selected into the second round of competition, which we were obviously very disappointed by, and it led us to think Wow, there must be other people that have, you know, better technologies than than we do. And the competition went on for about three months without us. And those finalists, all got money and time to advance the competition and then we were at, but it was clear that they couldn’t make these goals, either. So they dug back in to their five teams advance we were in six. So they invited us back in the competition but there was no equalization, how they, they didn’t give us the same money they didn’t give us any time they said the race is in progress. You could join it or not, and that just pissed me off and not to just want to want to really go and I said well, actually you know it’s kind of interesting because now we’re still, you know these other teams don’t even really know that I exist, and we’re in the competition and we just kind of quickly mobilize and so I, you know, I didn’t have any time to raise money for this next phase. So I actually took a home equity line for $1.5 million out on my house and bet it all in putting this competition together and put a ragtag team of people that I knew from Burning Man. A team of doers, along with some real innovators in the space of biomass gasification. That basically convert biomass into energy, but it also creates a kind of a to x waste factor of heat. And that’s where the synergies really started is I cracked the code on the energy source, which nobody could do. But not only did I crack the code in the energy source, I started to aggregate the possibilities around, what do we do with this heat because I knew that that more water is available in air, the hotter it gets, you also have to dry the biomass. The biomass has moisture in it so you can dry the biomass create essentially an augmented atmosphere, because the limitations of atmospheric water generation is generally limited by its location and how hot and humid it is. And so if we can create our own heat and humidity, we could essentially have water being made anywhere. We have our own energy source in abundance. With that I can do refrigeration. And we sequester biomass which otherwise would degrade and contribute to atmospheric essentially greenhouse gases methane, hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and turn it into a actually a beneficial product in the form of bio char, that goes into soil systems and soil revitalization system to grow more biomass, so you end up in this cycle, where you’re kind of solving waste management issues with mobile energy issues and sequestering atmospheric carbon making water, so I’ve been really expanding that now into the implementation phase into these resilience hubs, this idea that it’s a community on micro utility, where, especially in the developing world, the community could own and operate and make its own electricity refrigeration and battery storage swapping, and, and, you know, tie right into regenerative agricultural systems.



Mike Malatesta  55:44

when you didn’t make it to the next round. And then you were brought in was, did your idea, change, or did the technology change as you were moving forward or did you just continue on the same path and then discover the you know the energy part of it and, and was that that was the to combine the thing that really sort of got you to the to the winner’s circle.


Yeah that was that, but that was, that was not necessarily part of the there was some of the early concepts, and the overall systems thinking around it but that wasn’t in place. And so, sometimes, you know, healthy competition with a really strict deadline is the thing that makes the difference, you know, you don’t have time to pull around, you got to just go fast and forward, and, and then X Prize, you know, gave us that and so I, I knew enough, as an architect, you know when architects do well, is we’re, we’re integrators in a way like we, you know we’ll have an idea. I’m not the structural engineer but I know enough to work with the structural engineer the mechanics, or the geologists, so I was able to coordinate and assemble the team but I had the vision about the way in which these things could be synergistic together. Okay. And then I kind of understood enough to kind of integrate them put them into a form factor. And that’s that has won the X PRIZE but really it was a renewable energy piece because if you’re trying to do this with energy with solar, I mean, there, there are some systems that are really cool that use like desiccants and they, but they make very little water, so they couldn’t compete on the ball, and then there are big systems that make mass amounts of water, but they’re too expensive, and they don’t use renewable energy because they’re too energy intense. So, this was an interesting challenge because it was many people could have probably competed in the small water space run big water space but where the impact is really needed in the world, because on a kind of small village community scale water.

Mike Malatesta  58:10

So when you want to be tremendous feel tremendous. And I’m wondering, were you able with the prize money to pay off the line of credit on your house because that winning is just the first. That’s like the the validation right but the the idea wasn’t ready for say primetime or deployment full scale deployment right so there has right yeah so


well no I mean I wasn’t really able, I mean, basically we spent almost that amount of money to get the expert so I mean, thank God I won, I mean at least I was able to pay back that, otherwise there would have been no upside down $3 million, right, but it wasn’t like that I was able to pay that back. Make ends up being expensive to win that expert in, you know, it, it’s, it’s fantastic that we won in the scheme of sharding to solve the water problem $1.5 million. Not sure,


yeah I mean $100


million for carbon is not going to do it. But, you know, but it’s a, it’s a very small amount of money in the scheme of of the problem that we’re trying to solve.

Mike Malatesta  59:23

So the we do which stands for wood to energy deployable emergency water, right, where is it now David where. How’s it work now where is it in in use, what do you what do you what’s the future for, what are you hoping to accomplish and how can people help.


Sure. So yeah, the we do is the kind of prioritization of the XPrize technology. We do have several of them in operation and case studies, we have been successful in obtaining grants through kind of non dilutive capital to operate him show the performance of these machines. One of them is through a California Energy Commission grant, which I have in my ranch in Malibu sky source branch, and we are proving that we could use renewable energy we can use to heat a building cool a building power of micro grid for the community, put power back into the grid stored in batteries. And, and we’re tying that back in their regenerative agricultural systems. With the bio char and some fire retardant soils and defense systems. We also have been advancing other global deployment case studies. So one of the first will be working with the United Nations World Food Programme in Uganda. In a settlement camp where there’s wooden pallets and crates that typically get burned. But there’s also a woodshop that needs power, and which refugees make products that they can sell for sustenance. So they, but they need energy and they typically just run diesel generators which costs a lot of money so to use the word to make the energy, make the wood to then have the byproduct of water and refrigeration for the campus is his example we’re doing another one in the Bahamas. A lot of what we’re doing are an island nations, because they’re the first to feel the effects and the least have contributed to them right there, perfect example for what we are essentially as an island and space, you know with spaceship Berg. And, you know, there are more people are more conscious of what, you know what they’re taking and where the waste is going, but they’re also almost all diesel based economies where diesel’s transported using diesel. So, other homies are interesting because they’ve been in, there’s huge Caribbean pine forest, but they’ve been inundated with salt water rising sea level rise. So there’s a lot of standing dead, biomass, and it’s all diesel energy, and surprisingly not really any freshwater sources. So we are working on a pilot project there, we’re working on something in Southeast Asia, using coconuts, as a bio mass, where these small communities scale factories have made coconut water. And they roll so they don’t have electricity. They need refrigeration and they need water and they have coconuts. So, you know, we’re looking for places that have mass. And, you know, put in systems it’s largely through nonprofits that are on the ground that are working with these communities. And it may particularly make sense where neither the water is contaminated, like, you know 80% of Bangladesh, or, or there is no water here far from the coast. You can’t drill wells. So we, you know, we hope that more through impact investment, and ultimately through venture capital, but, you know, more conscious capital and kind of profit for purpose model that will basically finance these we dues. And then the community sells the instruments of service. And then with that they pay back the essentially through a recurring revenue stream model, it’s like the power purchase agreement yeah okay fostered the whole solar industry. So that’s kind of our, our financial model and we’ve, we’ve been in the process of really testing that and building this model out and then we’ll be looking kind of made a seed round of funding and then we hope to really get more of a project financing round.

Mike Malatesta  1:04:29

Does it matter the quality of the air in the environment where we do is placed, like, I mean I suppose in most places the quality there is probably fine but I’m just thinking like regular water. If it’s contaminated. You don’t want to drink it and if the air is say polluted and you condense the water vapor from the air, which I don’t even know if that’s exactly what you’re doing but I think it is. You get water. Is it does it is there any bearing on the quality of the water.


Sure, there can be, but just like water and air needs to be filtered and the water needs to be filtered so water, you know, is this amazing substance because it has a memory. I mean that’s why it can hold a contaminant. So it’s quite a simple process, just like all the air we breathe in a building, we can just use filters to filter out impurities in the air, and then we can use filters to filter out any impurities in the water but inherently the water is pure. To start, because it’s pure distilled water, and its purest form the newest form of water, it’s not water that’s been say sitting underground for a long time, that can pick up other contaminants or being transported long distances or treated with chemicals. So it’s. So, you know, it is still filtered and maintained but it’s essentially a pure form of water

Mike Malatesta  1:06:05

and Does anything need to be added to it because my understanding is you’re not you don’t want to be drinking distilled water all the time or is that a myth.


It’s kind of a myth.


I mean, if you talk to, like Dr. Andrew Weil from Harvard, you know, he’ll, he’ll tell you that distilled water is really healthy and necessary and helps to kind of strip, a lot of the, the heavy metals toxins and, you know, build up, but there’s, there’s a lot of kind of dissenting opinions about it, it is easy to mineralize if there’s any concern, you literally just run the water through mineralization filter. Okay, and you can get all the minerals that you want. Got it, okay, but mostly we get our minerals back, not really. You would have to consume a tremendous amount of distilled water to make any, any kind of impact. So the way,

Mike Malatesta  1:07:09

where’s the best place for people to find out more. Is it is it skysports.org Or is it.


Yes gajser.org Is our website, and you’ll see more there David hertz architect, Inc. Does our, you know, if you’re interested in what we’re doing with our architecture projects. And, you know, we’re really looking for partners where there is biomass where it makes sense we’re definitely looking to, we’re kind of making hay slowly like is the big global challenge and we’re, we’re also going to need to really build out our team, I mean I’m you know I’m going to need a CEO and, you know, a really build out a world class team of people that want to actually implement this is much bigger than my ability or my wife’s ability to, to actually do. So part of it is this chicken in the egg where you need the funding, the management team and, And, but you need to know the management team to get the funding. Okay.

Mike Malatesta  1:08:16

So final question that we do now is essentially encased in a 20 foot shipping container as I may be different sizes but a 20 foot is what I seen. And that brings me to you as an architect, have you ever built or have you considered building a home or something out of shipping containers I see all different uses for shipping containers and they’re kind of cool, sort of like the wing thing, but they’re geometrically maybe not so cool. So someone would have to. I’m just curious if that’s something you’ve considered or maybe


I designed but I’m


build a container home pretty early, but now it’s pretty popular, I mean the is to be derivative in a way, and I’d rather be more on the cutting edge of things unless I could completely reinvent a way to do it the,


you know,


the thing that’s cool about containers is that there’s an abundance of them, you know, generally locally the thing that’s not cool about containers is, they’re, they’re a monocoque structure, meaning that there’s like an egg I mean once you can kind of show the strength you lose it so, so you end up having to basically do a lot of redundant work to cut them up and, you know, If you put them together, you’re basically like duplicating everything because you’ve got like two columns and, you know another column. And they’re, you know they’re inherently very boxy and I’m sure that won’t transform them into something much more and that would be a challenge. in the we do we’re using 10 foot containers for each pod interlock to a 40 foot for intermodal transport, we have 20 foot containers, we’re doing some interesting things with this kind of side opening container, the way that the containers unfurl the great canopies are kiosk and kind of just using the container more the way the container wants to be used rather than trying to change it so much into, into a house.

Mike Malatesta  1:10:24

Well David this thank you so much for making time for me today. This has been so much fun and interesting to hear about all the things that you’ve been into and all the things that you still have yet in front of you and just your whole journey has been really cool I spend more time, some time on a few of them. And now I want to really get into, you know all the different ones that I can see because each one is its own. I mean great home but also like magnificent creation and what you’re doing with, with the we do. And, and you’re bringing water, creating the sort of micro utility thing concept I think it’s phenomenal. And really, really inspired by the work you’re doing.


Thanks, yeah it’s really fun to take the time out from doing it to think about why you’re doing it


right and


I appreciate the opportunity to kind of look at it, you know, from childhood and through and where I am 60 and in, you know, it tends to be a really nice reference to a point of view to to look at things in context, the day to day is always just like chipping away incrementally sometimes losing sight of the whole picture, so I appreciate that.

Mike Malatesta  1:11:39

Well I’m glad that we got the time to take that journey today it’s been, I’ve enjoyed the time.

Mike Malatesta

Mike Malatesta

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