Saturday, May 5, 2001

As a councilman, state Sen. J. Kalani English, standing here at
Piihana Heiau Paukukalo, pushed for guidelines to allow people to
use Hawaiian materials to build cultural dwellings without
retaining an engineer and architect.

Thatched roofs,
coconut poles stand up
to Maui building study

By Gary T. Kubota

WAILUKU >> The Hawaiian grass shack appears to be gaining respect among some in the building industry.

A committee on Maui is studying how to incorporate use of Hawaiian materials and structures in the building code.

The indigenous architecture committee, mandated by the Maui Council, is scheduled to submit a report by Nov. 22.

"I'm pleased with the work so far," said state Sen. J. Kalani English, who as a Maui councilman pushed for the ordinance.

English said the intent of the ordinance was to establish guidelines that would enable a person to use Hawaiian materials to build a cultural dwelling without retaining an engineer and architect.

In the past, many persons who wanted to build thatched roofs on Maui have had to obtain an exemption through the building appeals board.

Statewide, various counties have building codes based on national standards developed by Western builders who recognize the use of imported oak, nails and asphalt shingles.

But the codes do not recognize as acceptable coconut trees, tropical ohia poles, ropes and pili grass.

Thatched roofs are permitted on resort properties on Oahu, Kauai, the Big Island and Maui County mainly as a decoration over an existing roof.

A problem confronting the committee is the absence of any building standard for fastening wood with rope and of laboratory information about the strength and durability of Hawaiian materials.

Committee members say laboratory testing would be too expensive, so they are trying to develop standards that would far exceed the uniform code.

Committee member Walter Vorfeld, a structural engineer, said he has been reviewing the construction of Hawaiian A-frame dwellings and been pleasantly surprised to find its within engineering guidelines.

"It's time-tested," he said. "They found what worked and what didn't."

Vorfeld said the committee is probably going to list a number of Hawaiian materials in its construction guidelines, including ohia, ironwood, guava, koa and the coconut.

He said under tentative guidelines, Hawaiian trees would not be milled but used in their natural circular form as posts.

Ralph Nagamine, county administrator for the Land Use and Codes Division, said the committee is focusing on developing the indigenous standards for cultural dwellings, such as canoe houses, not residences.

The cultural dwellings would have no plumbing or electricity.

Committee member Hans Riecke, an architect, said he views the work of the committee as a step toward helping to revive traditional techniques in Hawaiian construction. "All we're doing is giving it a start," Riecke said.

"We're trying to get something going and allow for further development of the rules as time goes on."

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