Week Three-Point-Five (or, 3.5): The Little House On the Hilltop Project

HIGHLIGHTS: An idea considered. Hawaii building musingsmusings.


With Week Three-Point-Five of The Little House On the Hilltop (TLHOTH) project now behind us, let me share what’s happened.

First of all, apologies for not keeping to the Sunday schedule and letting a good ½ week go by before this exciting enough update. We went to Hawaii for a week, Kauai to be exact. First time ever in those islands, a much-needed vacation from this fray, and one day I will tell ALL. Until then, all I can say is Wow. Mystical. Magical. Primordial. No, didn’t find Haysoos on the beach, found something more interesting: SEA TURTLES! Floated above a number of them, watching them delicately chomp (I know, how can that be? Delicately chomp? You have to see sea turtles in action to know what I mean) the sea grass. Very meaningful to me, this otherwise seemingly random encounter. I mean, for how big the sea is, to run into a bunch of sea turtles?! There’s a message there: Mother earth and all her energy, the sea, the soil, our endeavor, go with the flow, and slow down, go at a pace to see things to completion, stay grounded, you will get there—that kind of message…Now you know the little piece/peace of hippy I carry with me (I did work in the Bend Birkenstock store after all).

That said, I’ll get on with it:

An Idea With Some Sticking Power, But For How Long? When you don’t have a ton of money to throw around in a business, you have to get creative in how you do things. I had an idea, and that was (and still is) to get one of the local universities interested in this project. And what a project it could be for their students, to design and build an eco-friendly, sustainable something, from start to finish. To harness that crazy wind out there. Rein in all those rays. Use the cooling properties of the hillside’s deep dirt. Geothermal heating. Passive design. The works! Well, I contacted my contact in the Geology department at Portland State University (where I received my Master’s degree, but in the Applied Linguistics department) and he agreed, that it could be a great project. So, we’re going to chat after he gets in touch with a prof in the Architecture group and then go from there. Exciting!

Hanalei Houses. As I mentioned up above, we visited Kauai, geologically the oldest island in the chain, and from what we were told, one of the least influenced by Hawaii’s influx of tourists. I wasn’t so sure after I saw a Starbucks on the drive north from Lihue, rather put out by that sighting, actually, with Scott needing to remind me a couple of times that, chickens and all, we were still in the United States. The whole island, 552 square miles in total, is home to just under 60,000 people. It’s small. Hanalei has just under 500 residents, according to the 2000 census. Thankfully it was really low key, and even though we were on vacation, I was thinking about our little project. Call it the anthropologist in me (my BA is in anthro), or just my curiosity, but taking note of how regional homes are built is something I notice and enjoy.

My first impression was that the majority of homes reminded me of Swiss chalets: low, looming structures with overhanging eaves and the omnipresent upstairs balcony tucked underneath. No decorative woodwork, flower boxes of geraniums, and most houses were off the ground on pilings, and no, no belled goats living underneath. Also, seemed like the structures had a steeper roof pitch—but maybe not—obviously due to the rain, Kauai being called the wettest spot on earth. In Hanalei on the north shore, average rainfall reaches 80 inches; in comparison, most people think Portland, Oregon is one big sog bog, at around 36 inches a year. Travel south from Hanalei and you’ll reach the island’s center, where it rains, get this, over 400 inches a year! Then it tapers off considerably; the south shore may only receive around 18. Oddly  there were a bunch of post WWII ticky-tackys sans pilings and with fairly flat rooflines, and we saw one truly magnificently weathered wooden historical plantation-type home, island sensibilities reflected in its verandas and deep eaves, built right on Hanalei Bay. And almost always, the traditional thatched roofs replaced by corrugated metal, functional and long lasting.

What struck me the most, as the homes in Switzerland and other countries outside the United States I have lived and been, is how—other than those ticky-tackys—they are built for their environments. If there’s a lot of snow or rain, the roofs are built accordingly. A sunny spot, or more rain, then eaves. So what happened in this country? I mean, shit, this little farm house we live in, built in 1895, ferchrissakes, has no eaves at ALL, and the rain beats against its original cedar siding (thank goodness for cedar). WHAT WERE THOSE PEOPLE THINKING? O.k., granted, Portland’s settler history began only 50 years earlier than this tiny salt-box-type farm house was built. So maybe they didn’t know of the rain? I can’t believe they didn’t care? That’s not to say since then there haven’t been examples of more geographically-based buildings. I’m getting side-car-ed here. Anyway, from what little I know historically of Hawaii, with its Polynesian roots and then the typical “let us save you heathens” treatment by missionaries who brought with them outside building styles and ideas, and then the ongoing “progress” that has enabled someone like me in the 21st century to travel on paved roads, and stay rather comfortably in a house with inside plumbing, among other amenities, within the small village, there feels as if there’s been a responsive awareness to the environment in how things are built in Hanalei. The new has embraced the old, and it all works rather nicely.

Thankfully today’s technology lets us enjoy more the outside through large windows and open spaces, verandas and decks, instead of simply building a wall with tiny slits or small panes to protect from wind and rain and sun, and the houses in Hanalei also shared this notion: enjoy nature, but consider it by being considerate and thoughtful in how you build. And that’s exactly what I would want for our Little House On the Hilltop.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *