Architectural & Related Design

The Kula Lodge Garden Terrace Restaurant

Combining craft and construction is a synergistic function of both experience and experimentation.

© 1997 John August

The concept of an outdoor restaurant on the slopes of Mount Haleakala proved to be a formidable challenge for designer/builder John August, whose background in Art Nouveau and Craftsman traditions favored combining the free flowing organic style of Antonio Gaudi with the sophisticated structure of Greene & Greene. The project began in mid-1989 when the Kula Lodge owner, Fred Romanchak, shared his idea of alfresco dining. Unknown to the both of them, this prodigious venture would eventually consume three years of hard work, not to mention a goodly chunk of capital. Like any extensive, custom project there were a few unknowns and additions to the original plan - both the wood burning pizza oven and cascading stream evolved during the construction.

The location required special seating considerations. The spectacular view of both sides of the island warranted few obstructions and careful planning , especially preserving the character of the existing terrain - steep and laden with bedrock - which also proved to be a secure foundation for the terraced walls which range in height from four to ten feet. Holes were bored in the dense basalt for steel pins to anchor the reinforced concrete footings. In all, more than 450 tons of material - rock, aggregate, steel, brick, and cement were hand placed on the project with over 75 cubic yards of concrete batched on site. Over a dozen laborers came and went with the same complaint, "this is too hard."

The furniture modulus was actually established prior to ground breaking for the patio. However, finalization of the form came only after work on the patio was complete. It was desirable to have a seating layout which would maximize efficiency as well as accommodate such criteria as exposure to weather, maintenance, permanency, and comfort. A convincing argument was made by August for him to make custom lightweight concrete furniture which could satisfy the special requirements of the situation. The resulting tightly spaced modules were intended to create both a sense of dining intimacy and provide a perimeter barrier for the patio.

Even with the reduced weight the individual benches would nonetheless prove to be heavy. An interlocking system consisting of five separate parts was developed so each bench could be assembled near its final location. A master model was made; making the molds came next. "My mold making experience was fairly limited," admits August, "so I had to rely on a vivid imagination and an unsatiable urge to try and wed the conceptual within the constructs of reality... there was, of course, a lot of guess work along the way." Eventually a hybrid composite laminate of polyurethane rubber on the inside and epoxy-fiberglass-carbon fiber on the outside was developed for the molds.

Casting the individual pieces proved to be another adventure, a mere warm up actually, when compared with the final undertaking - installing the 54 benches. Miraculously there were no mishaps, drops, crushed fingers, or broken furniture. But there were some moments of extreme anxiety - especially because each of the 400 pound benches needed to be precariously balanced on a car jack by one person standing on the edge of a precipice, while the other went beneath them to pull a skid - nicknamed the Enterprise - from between their legs. There was always a deep sigh of relief when the shuttle booster touched down softly and another successful landing was completed.

Combining craft and construction is a synergistic function of both experience and experimentation. "The art of transferring vision into form and function is complex, especially in situations requiring fiscal constraint," explains August. "To make fanciful ideas work they need to be at once realistic and imaginative, practical and elusive, structured and forgiving. Any successful rendering requires the artist to recognize his own boundaries and those of the project and the client. And sometimes these limits need to be expanded. Conversely, projects of this nature are sought by those who place a higher value on the serendipitous unknown - and will chance the skills of one who can weave intangible and divergent forms into a cohesive picture - rather than redundantly build what most others accept as the status quo."


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