Taylor Cook

MArch I

Citing the Native Genius

Advised by Jeffry Burchard

For over 120 years Americanization has tried to demean and erase Hawaiian language, culture, and architecture. In contemporary discourse, the vernacular architecture of Hawai’i is mostly referred to as ancient and vague. As with many Indigenous cultures, Western perspectives tend to fetishize or patronize the Hawaiian design aesthetic. Within this hierarchy of knowledge is a systemic assumption that Hawaiian vernacular architecture cannot effectively serve as a precedent resource for contemporary architects. Those who do reference the original vernacular will often classify it as utilitarian or resourceful. Regardless of intent, this narrative takes design agency away from the people involved. As a corrective, a respectful use of vernacular domestic form would benefit designers that are struggling to connect with Hawai’i’s cultural and architectural traditions. 

Fluent communication through form requires analysis and classification. Mining the European gaze and influence out of revivalist publications, archeological surveys and historic images reveal unique characteristics of Hawaiian domestic space. Geometric quotation and symbolic referencing are the foundational instruments in applying the discrete components, form, and organizational logic of the vernacular. The result is a design process that creates an amalgamation of decolonized form and contemporary technique. This residential project intends to revive Hawai’i’s erased domestic experience by revisiting the precolonial vernacular style. The outcome suggests that when designers look to the original vernacular as a primary source to solve architectural problems, a culturally unique and deeply symbolic space can emerge from the process.

Black and white plan

Leaving the duplex for an early morning surf session. A figure carries a surfboard in front of curved two-story residential buildings bisected by a walkway.
The pā pōhaku (stone wall) that surrounds the duplex acts as a boundary sign and historical symbol. Constructed of natural stone that locals believe have a living energy called mana, these stones define the sanctuary of the duplex. Like kia’i (guards) the stones stand firm to protect the homestead.

A circular stairway seen from below, leading down to a door and an external courtyard.
A conical void points toward the center of the suns southern path. Direct sunlight is masked to create a daily sequence of lighting conditions that can be associated with moments of the day, months, and years.

A pathway zig-zags through several curved buildings spaced closely together.
A borrowed scenery is dramatized by framing, quoting and cropping to achieve the desired experience. The compound’s pervasive design aesthetic references both the formal language of the natural landscape and the supple geometry of its vernacular architecture.

A person exits by way of a curved stairway between two buildings.
Unlike the hale ekahi, this form brings the stair into the space rather than pushing it to the exterior. This formal decision creates a strong presence of geometry in the hale. The stair’s galvanized steel stringer traces the perpendicular curve of the cones inherent geometry and tangentially peels off the level ceiling before it passes through the plumb wall and plugs into the finish grade at the stair’s landing.

A person standing on a walkway between two curved buildings.
A conical surface allows for the flat strips of metal siding to wrap the building without requiring unique manipulation or distortion. The A606-4 weathering steel provides a monolithic visual aesthetic. The homogenous siding material forces the surface of the form to perform as both roof and wall with fluid yet developable transitions.