Two Tiny Pavilions Respectfully Perch Atop a Lava Flow on Maui
Living in harmony with nature means something a little different to everyone. For a woman born and raised on Maui, it's an idea rooted in her childhood on Keawakapu Beach, near an area that later mushroomed into the booming tourist destination known as Wailea. "There were just beautiful beaches and simple single-family homes," she remembers. "We didn’t spend much time inside."
When the woman inherited an undeveloped plot located on land her family had visited in rural Upcountry Maui since the 1960s, she didn’t want a permanent residence as much as a place to recapture the unrestricted outdoor freedom she’d known growing up. But how to accomplish that?
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After inviting nature writer and philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore to speak at a land conservation event, she recalled seeing photos of Moore’s tiny writing studio, the Watershed, which the writer’s daughter, architect Erin Moore, had built for her in Oregon. She reached out to the daughter by email and then the two met over coffee.
Moore, an associate professor in the University of Oregon’s Department of Architecture and its Environmental Studies Program and the founder of FLOAT Architectural Research and Design, had declined offers to replicate the Watershed, but here was a chance to do a project where the natural environment came first. "The question is, how do you take a piece of land you value because of its wildness and then build on it in a way that makes it at least as wild and not less?" she says.
After studying the uneven site, which sits atop a 300-year-old lava flow and is crisscrossed by historic lava rock walls, Moore, acting here as the designer, devised two demountable pavilions, Mauka (facing the mountains) and Makai (facing the sea), each measuring less than 120 square feet. The undeveloped areas are as much a part of the site as the built ones.
Set atop four concrete piers, Mauka is an enclosed studio situated so that the sun’s first rays gently illuminate the interior before leaving it in shade. With an open-air deck and kitchen and an outdoor shower, Makai sits a stone’s throw away, oriented toward the vast Pacific.
Since nearly all lumber in Hawaii is imported, Moore and the owner thoughtfully considered their material choices. They chose highly sustainable western red cedar for Mauka’s east and west facades and the interior. For the cladding and decking, the owner suggested juniper, which, like the cedar, is harvested in the Pacific Northwest. Wanting Makai to have a lighter feel, Moore collaborated with structural designer Mark Donofrio on a prefabricated steel frame that was anchored to the rock with threaded rods.
Solar- and battery-powered lanterns provide illumination at night and there’s a composting toilet on-site. Down the road, the property is intended to become fully energy-, water- and waste-independent. For the owner, the pavilions embody the Hawaiian concept of Aloha ’Āina. "It’s about a relationship of love and respect for the land," she says. "Respect leads to care and stewardship."
The project, which won first place in this year’s University of Hawaii Building Voices Design Competition, reflects Moore’s commitment to environmental ethics. "I’m interested in how the structures we build shape our views or reflect these cultural constructions of ideas of our role in the natural world," she says. "Offering a way of being in Hawaii that is more about ’Āina—the land and the place—is an important contribution."