Environmentally Secure Concrete Houses

Addressing the Need for Permanent Shelter in Hawaii

Architectural Style: Choices and Challenges

© 1993 John August

The challenge is to create buildings in good taste, practical, with a wide range of appeal, while helping to solve some of the problems of shelter with maximum efficiency. So, what factors determine architectural style?

1. Choice of available materials.

2. Exposure to the elements.

3. Retaining a regional character.

After viewing the conceptual drawing for my two story concrete house, someone at a county agency remarked, "we would like to see something more Hawaiian." I asked naively, "what is that?" He then went on to explain how wide overhanging eaves and lanais were important features in Hawaiian homes.

With regards to gabled roofs, consider this: large overhanging eaves may look impressive, but they act like wings in the presence of high winds and initiate a condition known as "racking" or severe twisting of stick-framed structures, leading to disintegration.

And, in designing a house for the tropics - Hawaii in particular - one should think of very room being a lanai. The problem in copying mainland architectural styles is simply that most of them were not developed for an open air environment, which is one of the reasons the Hawaiian lifestyle is so popular. Shelters here should be taking advantage of this in every room, not just the porch.

The architectural works of C.W. Dickey and others who have sought to create a Hawaiiana style should be viewed as part of a metamorphosis, rather than as idioms to be copied endlessly. Innovation must surely respect tradition, but not be subjugated to it. We need to keep the perspective that the architectural masters have always tended to push the limits of the technology available in their day. However, many times they were limited, not so much by their imagination, but by the availability of materials and the willingness of others to let go of their attachments to cliched forms which had lost their utilitarian purpose. Or, in the case of Iniki, simply blew away.

Architects and other designers need to let go of their preconceived notions of what form a house should take, and re-examine the basic needs and functions of the structures they are creating. For example, roofs should be curvilinear and monolithic in construction and have continuous tensile and shear membranes connected directly to the footings. A cast in place lightweight composite concrete roof would provide insulation, protection from the elements, and trouble free maintenance. In terms of design, concrete is strongest when used as curvilinear shapes. We only need to refer to nature for explicit examples: eggs and mollusk shells are substantive protection for some of the most fragile life forms. Boxy, straight edge shapes never gained popularity because they were doomed to failure from the beginning by the simple process of natural selection.


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