A Fabulous Home in Hawaii By Architect Tom Kundig
Photos by Benjamin Benschneider and Simon Watson
As if the winds at Slaughterhouse Beach on Maui's dramatic northwest coastline aren't frisky enough already, renowned architect Tom Kundig has turbocharged them in his design for a spectacular home overlooking this legendary surfing spot.
“Rather than push the air through, it pulls it through like a Formula One race car,” says the principal/owner at Seattle's Olson Kundig Architects.
The innovative, multi-award-winning architect – a specialist in iconic and one-of-a-kind residential designs that respond keenly to their surroundings – started by working up models of the home's six-and-a-half-acre site on a point high above the beach.
He then called in RWDI Consulting Engineers, a team of noted wind specialists based in Toronto, Canada. They conducted wind tunnel tests to measure how best to channel the trade winds so they would travel up and over the home's roofline, drawing air throughout the home.
The clever idea was part of an overall design scheme to take maximum advantage of the wind, the land and the breathtaking views over the beach, where ships once landed regularly, unloading their cargo of cattle destined for Honolua Ranch's slaughterhouse at the cliff’s edge.
That structure and a tanning shed were demolished in the mid-1960s, but the beach’s unconventional name stuck. The coastal point was gifted to the state, which then restricted any building to a two-acre plot set just back from the cliff, where the winds still persevere.
“The trade winds can be gentle but sometimes fierce," says Kundig. “So there's a quiet side towards the road, with berms between. Then there are the buildings themselves and the big view looking out over the point, over two other islands, the surf break and the whale lines.”
Those trade winds regularly blow in from the Pacific Ocean to the northeast, while Kona winds stream over the island from the southwest. Kundig positioned the home to take advantage of both while intentionally tucking it down and out of view from land and sea.
“An important design driver here is the environment of Hawaii's relentless climate,” he says. “So the house is hidden from the water side, the beach side and the road side – it’s kind of hunkered in.”
He looked back to Pacific Island plantation precedents on Maui for its Dickey roof, modifying a ventilating system named for the architect who popularized it in the 1920s and '30s.
In essence, it's a peaked form with a high spot in its center designed to pull breezes up like a chimney and send hot air out through the top. “It's a roof like a big parasol to protect the house from the sun, but it's also a breeze harvester, so air-conditioning is used as little as possible," says Kundig.
Still air is almost unheard of on the point. Wind moves through the house for most of the day, since the roof is equipped with electrically controlled louvers that can be opened or closed depending on the weather conditions. “It's a breathing shelter, like an air machine,” he adds.
Harvesting the wind is a great concept, but negative pressure could tear a standard roof up and off. Kundig's solution was a prefabricated steel roofing frame, a plywood diaphragm with exposed SIPs and corrugated, zinc-coated aluminum on top of that.
The home he designed comprises three individual buildings, separated one from another in a typical Hawaiian enclave, with each unit protected by the surrounding landscape.
Eighty feet of pivoting window walls connect inside with outside, and each hut is allowed to breathe in its environment as its louvers open and close. “You can leave them open 70 percent of the time,” the architect says. “They're just a cover over your head.”
Initially designed for a family of four, its central structure is a gathering hut that's centered on a swimming pool facing a kitchen and dining room.
At one end is the master bedroom hut, and at the other is a three-bedroom hut with moveable walls to accommodate children and an au pair. “It's a classic Japanese fusuma screen concept,” says Kundig. “In that tradition, translucent screens are used for privacy or separation.”
The home’s walls are rammed earth, 18 inches thick, because the land the home sits on is battered relentlessly by high winds and corrosive salt air.
“The hurricane winds come across this point, so there aren't many tall trees, and we needed a tough wall to take on the forces of this location,” he adds. “The contractor took it on to learn how to do rammed earth. It's a material that's obviously beautiful and handmade but expensive to do because of labor costs."
There's little maintenance for the home because of the durable nature of the materials used and the fact that it's so well protected by the surrounding landscape. “It's kind of like nice camping,” says Kundig. “It's laid-back, but it's also tough as nails.”
Originally built for a family, the home is now owned by Peter Lik, the renowned Australian landscape photographer – several of his highly prized photographs can be found inside the compound. And if you’re interested in buying the place, Lik has it listed for sale by Sotheby's International Realty for a cool $19.8 million.
But its best value lies in its spectacular ocean views, and not just of the surfers who constantly challenge the breakers below. Islanders flock to the point also.
“It's used as a lookout for fishing,” says Kundig. “It's a prominent spot for views of the ocean – the locals signal when they see a school of fish or whales or turtles. It's a pretty spectacular piece of property.”
On it stands one of Kundig's finer odes to the environment – one that merges graciously into the natural elements of the wind, land and ocean around it.
For more information, visit olsonkundigarchitects.com.