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The Big Picture of Sustainable Construction for Hawaii
Sustainability and green design are buzzwords that have taken over the design and construction industry. Hawaii is a state that cares deeply about sustainability; after all, we live on a small chain of islands that are easily cut off from the rest of the world. We are highly dependent on the oil economy of commercial shipping. The current high cost of energy generation here limits on industrial applications for producing our own building materials here in the islands. We import all of our steel and glass, as well as most of our timber. Until locally available source of power such as wind and geothermal and tidal electricity generation become so inexpensive as to be cheaper than mainland costs, Hawaii’s own sustainable industrial materials production will be limited. While these are important goals and worth pursuing, they can only be part of our long-term plan as the technology develops and costs lower. We must take action now, which requires the use of existing technologies. Thankfully, a great deal of improvements to today’s constructed environment is possible using retrofits of sound existing buildings while phasing out unrepairable buildings with new.

Our Heritage
The islands of Hawaii are one of the newest pieces of land borne out of our beautiful Pacific Ocean geologically speaking. Each new species or tribe has come to this island has colonized his own way, and brought with it its own unique flavor of construction architecture.
The Polynesians brought methods using natural materials that grew here, or used the native stone. This is often considered the foundation of Hawaiian architecture. Each ethnic group that followed brought their own culture to the island, sometimes incorporating Hawaiian elements into their own work. Whether from New England to Japan, Indonesia or Germany each brought building techniques were that were incorporated into the plantation style.
With the end of World War II and the arrival of true statehood in United States, development proceeded at a pace that had hitherto been unknown in the islands. As commercial jets became commonplace Island open to tourism and a whole new wave of people discovered the beauty of the islands.
In the 60s, the architects of Hawaii were of highly idealistic character. It was the height of modernism, and the “International style” was the theory that ruled the day. They created a type of modernism that incorporated needs directly related to the local lifestyle and culture. Today, global warming, escalated pollution, and reduced sources of fresh pure water have reenergized movements for clean developments of all kinds.

Today’s Mandate: Protect our Children’s Future Using Today’s Technology
Hawaii’s mild climate and limited resources has produced in most instances a minimalist attitude towards construction, building to the lowest standard because that was all that could be afforded and was necessary 95% of the time. Whether building a traditional Halau of lauhala, or a single wall plantation cabin of clear redwood peace homes were built to fill an immediate need and not to withstand the test of time. Our knowledge of what makes a healthy and safe building has greatly increased. We now have the ability to build structures that can withstand earthquakes and hurricanes, and diminish the possibilities of airborne pathogens such as mold, mildew and dust. All that is required to do this is just the determination to do so. Foresight takes time to work through all possible scenarios, but given the well and the time it is possible to think through and make a design that will solve the problems of shelter and environment. We should not seek a quick fix for difficult problems, or we risk failure.

Symbiotic Shelters
At the heart of all of this is the goal to provide a safe environment for our children and our grandchildren. By thinking outside the box of traditional architecture we can move forward to create architecture that actually improves the environment, saves water, generates electricity, and improves air quality both inside and outside. The key is to treat construction has a symbiotic organism in the local environment that has significant impacts. Determine all the environmental impacts the green field site would have and all the benefits. Then you would also determine all of the required functions of the building to be produced on that site. From this list of performance features one can work backward to create a design that when constructed would fulfill both the needs of the building occupants while creating a better environment than what would have been there in a green field site. The past 30 years has produced a great deal of research as to functional techniques to perform these goals. It is up to each one of us to have the sense to seek these techniques out and use them.

Copyright ©2011 by Jessë Valentine Portz