Environmentally Secure Concrete Houses

Addressing the Need for Permanent Shelter in Hawaii

Shelter Summary

© 1993 John August

Hurricane Iniki made apparent our need to review the adage that form follow function. For the last 60 years the emphasis of the function of shelter in the US has shifted from efficient utility and permanence towards economic and speculative consumption.

The failure of modern architecture, with its emphasis on cheaper being better, has falsely portrayed real value with inferior structures. This, in turn, has created a domino effect. A value structure based on speculation and deception has so eroded consumer confidence that any truths are likely to be circumspect as well.

Although the roofs we live under dominate much of our lives, our detachment from the knowledge of the origins and purpose of the materials which comprise these structures keeps us from making any realistic evaluation of their utility. It is a fault of education that people are not taught how things are built and why some structures work and others don't. Most people are ignorant about the construction of things, and thus are completely vulnerable to the romance of owning so called "real" estate while failing to grasp the meaning of structural integrity.

This is the lesson that Iniki should have taught us. When people look at the aftermath and ask why, there is only one answer: ignorance. If people don't know any better, they will automatically settle for less. But because the average person neither has the time nor the inclination to know, maybe it is time others should be assuming this responsibility. Change is a challenge; but Iniki could be our inspiration, if not our catalyst.

In particular, I challenge architects and designers, who have been the traditional vision keepers for shelter. Maximum efficiency and minimum parts should be the norm, not the exception. Structural integrity should be the rule, not an economic compromise. And a greater sense of aesthetic style - not anesthetizing themes - should dominate and define our landscapes.

We should include in our perspective how others view us as well. Because Hawaii is a tourist oriented economy, we need to remember that people come here seeking Hawaiiana, not California. We need to consider that if we create enough housing projects that look like Daly City, we will lose our unique charm as a world destination.

In this quest for an aesthetic style in architecture we should seek to develop and maintain an architectural model, uniquely Hawaiian, not only in the sense that we make use of indigenous materials, but that we create structures which relate to this environment. This we can accomplish by respecting the origins of traditional forms, while accepting that our primary function should be permanent shelter. Our shelters should reflect both a regional character and integrate the best current technology. The nature of materials we choose to use and the particular demands of the localized environment should dictate looks as much as tradition does.

Also, architects and homeowners alike need to reference appropriate models for concrete homes in general - of which the gabled roof, stick frame structure is not one. Suitable styles include more traditional influences of Dutch, Moorish, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern flourishes where the predominant structures were of masonry construction - stone, brick, clay, mud, etc. Concrete construction should be modeled after its historical antecedents, not its more recent deviants. Incorporating arched doorways, vaulted ceilings, and eased edges gives a time worn element of comfort suggesting a more casual way of life.

The challenge to state and county directors should be one of direction. The options for creating permanent shelter should be scrutinized using the following parameters: durability, ease of maintenance, efficiency, aesthetics, and long term economics. When new ideas appear that are realistic solutions, directors should take initiative rather than waiting for these ideas to be implemented someplace else first. Initiative can take the form of building code variances, financing experimental structures, or research funding.

Present and future homeowners could be educated in the basic elements of construction and style, or at least have easier access to this information. A simple handbook describing architectural styles and the methods and materials of construction should be available to any prospective homeowner, much like a consumer's guide book.

Lastly, I challenge the homeowner to question every aspect about how their home is built, and whether it is truly suited to a tropical lifestyle with its extremes of the elements. Cost effectiveness should be measured not by initial square foot cost, but by factoring in building lifespan vs. dollar spent.

When hurricanes speak, the victims should listen. But sound structures must be preceded by sound thinking.



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