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The nature of architecture

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    Courtesy Kris Eiserloh Homeowners Robert and Shirley Jensen asked architect Kris Eiserloh to create a home that interacted with the outside. Eiserloh came up with the house above, which turns virtually every major room into a lanai.
    Above are outside and interior details of the Poipu Road home designed by Jimmy Wu.
    One of the Kaupuni Village homes, above, designed by Jim Stone.
    Above are outside and interior details of the Poipu Road home designed by Jimmy Wu.

  • Courtesy Lorraine Minatoishi
  • Lorraine Minatoishi redesigned the Churchill cottage in Manoa using many materials including salvaged wood from a barn
  • which turns virtually every major room into a lanai.
    Courtesy Lorraine Minatoishi Lorraine Minatoishi redesigned the Churchill cottage in Manoa using many materials including salvaged wood from a barn, combining modern and classic.

The Hawaiian values of sharing, openness and closeness to nature can take many forms. Local architects found many ways to convey these in several projects this year, as represented in entries to the annual design contest held by the Hawaii chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

"Jurors commented on the innovative use of materials, of projects that are designed so well that they belong to that specific site, of elegant solutions to difficult problems," Spencer Leineweber, president of AIA Honolulu, said in a statement. "Numerous comments were made about our projects’ seamless integration into existing landscapes and the perfect balance between the architecture and nature."

The results of the contest will be announced Tuesday.

Below, in no particular order, are four Oahu residential projects that were submitted for the contest:


Robert and Shirley Jensen wanted a home that made them feel "like we were outside."

Architect Kris Eiserloh accomplished this with a two-story, U-shaped home that turns virtually every major room — living space/kitchen, master bedroom, home office and guest space — into a lanai. That effect is created by essentially making the second floor into 30-foot-wide balconies supported by concrete columns that have been textured and painted to look like ohia tree trunks.

Floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors interlock, rather than meet at a corner support beam, so that when the doors are open, the rooms seem bare to the elements. But since those elements happen to be friendly Portlock Beach, which lies a few steps beyond the garden, it’s no problem.

"Bob’s main thing was, ‘Don’t block the ocean view,’" Eiserloh said. "Not everyone is willing to give up privacy for the view."

The $3 million house is framed in welded steel and reinforced in concrete, making it able to withstand hurricane-force winds. "This is kind of almost a structure you see in a high-rise building or a big commercial building," said Eiserloh, who uses concrete block in all his projects. "For us to achieve it in a residence, in budget, was really a great achievement."

Despite all that steel and concrete, the home still has a natural feel to it, a look accomplished by having an interior "clad" in merbau, an Indonesian tree that is pest- and rot-resistant, extremely hard and beautiful to boot. Eiserloh was able to find a mill shop in Indonesia that could custom-cut every single board to perfection. Floors, cabinets, trim, even custom-made doors decorated with hand-carved Japanese figures, are all made of merbau.


The main hall of this Poipu Road home is a huge, almost cavernous space that connects the front door to the backyard patio, swimming pool and a spectacular view of Maunalua Bay. With no pillars or posts to block the 33-foot-wide back doorway, "from the moment people enter the house, they go, ‘Wow, that view,’" said architect Jimmy Wu.

Even when sitting at the long, sweeping countertop that connects the kitchen area to the dining and living spaces, one feels the need to turn around and look at the ocean, especially when the sun is setting on the bay.

Wu said he designed the house to have "a sense of tropical design but contemporary," which he described as emphasizing open space and having "warm, natural materials." He used hardwood flooring material on the vaultlike ceiling, which in some areas of the living room stands 15 feet above the floor. Structurally this is made possible by the house’s metal-stud frame, which was made in China and shipped to the site. Wu’s clients, who were the original owners of the home, have a company that builds prefab homes in China and ships them overseas for reconstruction.

Wu said his client brought him magazines showing the design elements she wanted. His reaction: "Basically, you’re telling me you want a resort."

The $3 million house has that feel to it, with a home theater, recreation room, elegant bathroom, and wet bar by the pool. The master bedroom and living space both have the view as the focal point and get plenty of sun and breezes.

A native of Hong Kong, Wu also incorporated some subtle feng shui concepts in the design.

"Shui is water and that means wealth," he said. "We come into the front door (see the water), and it’s like the water comes in. We have a pond — the pool — to gather and trap all that and have the wealth stay here."


Kaupuni Village, a 19-home subdivision on three acres in Waianae developed under the auspices of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, is a comprehensive rendition of the concept of sustainability, as applied to the structures themselves and the people who live in them.

"Everything we did on Kaupuni translates to a more durable building that would offset maintenance … or has a real-life effect of lowering your monthly mortgage," said architect Jim Stone of the design firm Group 70 International, which worked with Hawaiian Electric Co., the National Renewable Energies Lab and local farming and aquaculture businesses to develop the project.

The village is designed to be a "net-zero" community, meaning it will generate as much energy as it uses and carbon emissions equal to what it consumes. Photovoltaic panels on every home ensure that electricity bills will be minimal, and monitoring devices allow residents to track their use of electricity in real time so that they know, for example, how much energy is used by watching television.

The walls of the three- and four-bedroom homes were built using a type of closed-cell foam — similar to the core of surfboard — that is applied as a spray and expands to fill the space between the inner and outer walls. The resulting layered construction is far more efficient than typical blanket insulation. The homes have a familiar board-and-batten look, but the "boards" are actually textured concrete, making them termite-, rot- and hurricane-proof.

Prices for the three- and four-bedroom leasehold homes ranged from $260,000 to $325,000, with federal subsidies reducing those costs an additional $50,000.

"We really wanted to give these guys a 50-year home because they’re signing 99-year leases on the land, with an option for another 99 years," Stone said. "Now there’s no way these houses are going to last 200 years, but if I can give them a 50-year home that doesn’t really need any major renovation, then the partners have done a really good job."

Each home has a site for a small aquaculture setup to grow vegetables and fish. A community clubhouse will also have a larger aquaculture facility.

The biggest design challenge, Stone said, was to come up with something that was flexible enough to be "twisted" — each home is positioned so that its roof gets maximum sun exposure — and still have a garage, a logical entry and a front lanai. The happy result is that Kaupuni has a unified character but not a "cookie-cutter" feel.

Kanani Velasco moved into Kaupuni with her family in April and has been ecstatic about their home. "I grew up in a regular house, and I thought I would have one," she said. After living in apartments for years, "this is it," she said.


In 1927 a niece of Winston Churchill had a quaint, 1,000-square-foot cottage built in Manoa. Constructed in Spanish mission style, the house had red clay tiles on the roof and a pink stucco exterior like the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which opened the same year and was an obvious inspiration.

An outstanding characteristic of the cottage was a living room with an arched ceiling line, which was accentuated by an arched picture window that went almost from floor to ceiling. Subsequent owners divided up other rooms, shrinking the size of the already modest kitchen and creating a second bathroom with a shower that was "literally the size of your body," said architect Lorraine Minatoishi, who designed the $500,000 remodel of the home. But the living room was left alone, even though that, too, created a problem with privacy.

"With a large window like this right into your living room, it’s disturbing because everybody can see what you’re doing," she said.

The current owners wanted a larger kitchen and had a book of Spanish mission-style houses that had a picture of a kitchen with an arched ceiling. "We all saw it and thought, ‘This is nice, let’s do this,’" Minatoishi said.

Minatoishi also added an L-shaped extension totaling 600 square feet of space to the back and side of the house, which is now used for bedrooms, a study and an exercise area. Virtually unnoticeable from the street, the extension "really changed the whole function of the house," she said.

Interior walls were broken down, creating an entryway that more logically flows into the relocated living room, which now has a degree of privacy from behind its tiled front patio.

Floors were replaced using salvaged wood from a barn. "It’s nice because there’s a variety of color in there. There’s some dark pieces, some light pieces and different lengths, too," she said.

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