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Notes from the Coconut Coast

A week in Hawaii reveals good waves and questionable condo desig
by admin on September 24, 2012

“It’s too bad they didn’t add windows right where those blank walls face the view,” I said to my son as we sat in the hot jets of the spa at our Kauai condo resort.

I looked over the arrangement of buildings and could see that every unit had an ocean view of some sort, but here was an easy opportunity to make the end units especially fabulous with sweeping views on two sides – but the architect didn’t do it. And what a view it was – the Pacific Ocean endlessly turning itself from blue to white against the sandy shore while palm trees rattled in the wind.

It was our third day on Kauai and I was getting better at not grousing about the various design flaws in our resort.  We had moved from a one-bedroom unit after the first night to a two-bedroom unit and, while the upgrade generally made things easier on the four of us McKees, it wasn’t all good because of some idiotic design choices that were forever built into the living units.

The worst of it was the way the master bedroom on the top level was open to the vaulted ceiling of the family room like a mezzanine, with noise and sound going back and forth resulting in a major lack of privacy. I could just tell the design arose from some architect who just couldn’t resist staggering the rooms vertically like this to create a “dynamic” interplay of space and never mind the real day-to-day impact on the lives of the occupants. Oy! This upper bedroom had some really high windows that let in light but were way too high to show the view. Instead we got to look at the sloped ceiling of the family room. In other words, we were on the top floor of a building along the gorgeous Kauai coastline, and there was no way to see out. This condition was repeated in every top floor unit in the whole complex. This failure resulted in decades of visits by countless vacationers missing out on the view but instead getting to hear their kids’ television choices. It was inexcusable.

We made up for our imperfect condo by getting out to explore the beautiful “garden isle” of the Hawaiian islands. It was easy to find entertainment on Kauai. There was scuba diving, zip lining, shaved ices, sneaking into the lagoon-sized pool at the Hyatt, not to mention the to-die-for ahi burritos at Monico’s.

We took a hike in the jungle interior of the island. In the middle of all that dappled green it all seemed so utterly still and quiet until I started noticing all the birdsong. The more I listened, the more mesmerizing it all became.

A favorite activity was body surfing, especially for the kids and me. There’s just something about surrendering to the motion and energy of the ocean that’s so easy to enjoy.

Day four found Wesley and me just off Brennecke’s Beach at Poipu, leaning into the roaring surge of breaking waves before heading further out to float easily with our boogie boards in the passing swells. The taller swells lifted us an extra four or so feet upwards and then back down in a wonderfully weightless way. We watched these swells come in with their staggered rhythms, waiting for the alignment that would create the extra-strong waves that would launch us beachward down their slopes, zooming us along a surging tumult of white foam. We loved it.

I came to enjoy very much the waves that crashed just barely in front of me as I stood there, requiring a plunge downward to lie against the sandy bottom, faithfully surrendering to a counterintuitive notion that I would be safe by hiding at the deepest spot under all that turmoil, eyes closed tight against the roiling saltwater. The mad energy of the wave passed above, rippling me against the sand, randomly punching at my body and tugging hard at the wrist leash of my boogie board. This technique was very reliable at preventing an ass-over-teakettle somersault, except for a couple of times when I delayed my drop and was caught out of position by a crashing wave. I got to experience the tumble cycle of the big saltwater washing machine, eyes clenched extra-tight with an arm held rigidly overhead to fend off collisions with the sandy bottom. Honestly, I enjoyed this more than I probably should have, so fond was I of letting the energy of these waves toss me around for a little bit.

Back at our condo I came to admire the way that the outdoor patio furniture was actually quite useful as drying racks for our surf-shirts and wetsuits and such. This was actually a pretty good thing – a livable aspect of life at our condo. In the way that people always do, we had come to adapt our behaviors to the idiosyncrasies of our environment. When I was up in my room and didn’t want to hear the TV below, I put in ear-buds and listened to music on my i-phone. When I missed the flow-through ventilation we had experienced in the one-bedroom condo, I turned on an electric fan. I know – these solutions were far from ideal – but we humans make our peace with such things. It’s one of our best traits. I suppose I fussed more than most about the various design flaws because I could see how easy it would have been to end up with a better building.

It got me to thinking. When designing to accommodate real human life, one must get the basics right before one gets to have fun designing in the cool fun stuff. People want and need things like privacy, view outlook, cross-breeze and even things like electrical outlets that are not just on one side of the sink. These things are not expensive to include – we just need to be aware of them and work them in. Get this right, and then you have the right to wax poetic in the design. There are just too many human lives spending too many hours (days . . . years!) living with the effects of these buildings for us not to get them as good as they can be.

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