“A series of pods” is how Hagy Belzberg, FAIA, describes the vacation house he designed on Hawaii’s Big Island for a large extended family.

But in building code parlance, it’s a main house with one detached building. When local regulations prohibited the indoor-outdoor pavilions the owners asked for, Belzberg and his team came up with four structures of varying sizes, two on each side of an outdoor hallway. Recycled teak timbers reach across it, joining the garage/guest quarters pod on one side with the main living pod and separate media room on the other. The children’s pod, which holds bedrooms and play space, stands on its own beside the motor court.

The sculpted home breaks with the island’s Colonial architecture tradition, but it has a Hawaiian soul. “Over the last few decades in Hawaii, historical elements introduced into the building fabric have resulted in a Disneyland effect,” Belzberg says. “We used local and recycled materials, and tried to reintroduce cultural elements as details.”

Once visitors have parked in the motor court, they enter the hallway, a long spine that acts as a spacious outdoor foyer before tipping slowly into a zero-edge reflecting pool. The hallway sits off-axis on the linear lot, pointing toward views of the ocean to the west and a volcanic mountain range to the east, while the glassy pods and private lanais zigzag around it.

The pods are low, their walls and roofs braced with steel to withstand the island’s gale-force winds and seismic shifts. Exteriors are clad in recycled teak planks and slabs of stacked basalt, a lava rock that also covers the floors, outdoor terraces, and pools. In addition to providing thermal mass, the heavy stone helps anchor the buildings to the ground. Rainwater is collected in three dry wells that replenish the aquifer, and solar panels lighten the electricity load.

For the past five or so years, the architects have been experimenting with CNC milling, fascinated by the customization that digital fabrication allows. Here, the shop-made pieces allude to the vegetation and culture. The island’s basket-weaving history inspired the entry pavilion, which re-enacts the tradition of presenting guests with a gift. The marine plywood inverted basket was assembled on site from a kit of parts fabricated in Los Angeles.

“You can walk through it to the orchard gardens beyond, or make a left or right down the outdoor hallway,” Belzberg says. “It’s pulled off the main axis so you make a decision to walk into it and engage it.”

Inside, the living room’s billowing ceiling, digitally cut from an off-the-shelf glulam beam, is an abstracted grass skirt and a nod to the island’s wood-carving tradition. In the master bedroom, the headboard and ceiling suggest palm trees. The mosaic on the powder room wall is computer-generated, too. Belzberg used a pixilated photo of the client’s favorite orchid to model the location of the tiles.

This home celebrates the history and spirit of its place, whether it’s the stunning Hawaiian sunsets reflected on the swimming pool’s dark surface, the sliding glass walls that dematerialize to admit tropical breezes, or the fruit trees planted in private niches outside each pod. And—perhaps best of all—the design inspires new traditions.

“After all the work we did on the outdoor hallway, the kids use it as a giant slip ’n slide,” Belzberg says. “When it rains they slide off the edge and into the reflecting pool.”


Project Kona Residence
Architect Belzberg Architects, Santa Monica, Calif.
General contractor Tinguely Development, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
Structural engineer William Blakeney Inc., Kailua, Hawaii
Landscape architect Belt Collins, Honolulu
Interior designer MLK Studio, Los Angeles
Project size 8,000 square feet, including covered patios and exterior hallway
Site 1 acre
Construction cost Withheld