Modern anthropogenic climate change, chronic erosion and human pollution in the atmosphere have forced many outcomes. One of which is Hawaii’s response to how urban and regional developers intend to tackle island sustainability through architecture.
I continued my journey to Kalapana, eager to observe the highly specific living circumstances embraced by its community. Kalapana is located on the south rift of the island, where deadly volcanic eruptions and irrepressible lava flows, travelling from Mauna Loa directly towards the ocean, have buried entire towns under 50ft layers of thick, black lava – erasing history in the process. The apocalyptic landscape is visibly distinct, but not unusual from others on the island. Punctuated by singular homes built upon cooled lava, creating unique living conditions for a brave and private few.
Given its deadly history and contrasting backdrop, there is an obvious urge to romanticise the landscape. Analogue felt like an acceptable vocabulary to implement at this time, given its commonality with the layered surface, structural weakness and irreversible change drawn from the atmosphere. However, when I chose to visit this site I had hoped to come back to the questions that I was preoccupied with in Waimea. Keen to explore Kalapana as an anthropogenic source, I considered three architectural questions: How had Kalapana continued to maintain itself as an experimental topography? Could living on, what some might consider, ruined land, in a high level lava zone bring you closer to a true sense of sustainability? What building techniques, if the residents had any, are used to protect and preserve homes from extreme environmental conditions? I considered all of these questions as constituent components in my approach to photographing the site.
As I moved rapidly around the site, I noticed half buried cars and the remnants of housing structures, symbolic of 1940-60s dystopian landscape aesthetics and coincidental echoes with dystopian fiction such as Pixar animation Wall-E. Arguably holding onto an element of fear and alienation through their use of vernacular building techniques, most residents have chosen to live ‘off the grid’ with no connection to electricity, water services or plumbing infrastructure. This private community engages in what Raymond Williams describes as “a western cultural double – think at once basking in the narrative of progress while simultaneously hoping for a return to simpler times”. By this, I believe residents endure a long process of trial and error living upon the lava with the reward of “simpler times” and a strong affinity with the natural landscape. However, given the constant threat of “a return to brutality”, in this instance being natural catastrophe or mass produced architecture, their quality of life is constantly characterised by examples of dystopia .
Prior to my trip, I researched documentaries and news reports about the conflicted relationship between Kalapana’s reclusive neighbourhood and curious tourists, which the site inevitably attracts. In doing so, I found that Hawaii and other natural disaster sites have become a notably recurrent theme in contemporary architectural practice, with many architects, “eager to discover forbidden land” . Kalapana became the recent focus of architects at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London. In a recent publication, Bartlett graduates proposed a building that would function as a compromising ground between the two communities. Placing local topography at the core, the building served two functions: firstly, an evacuation centre for all and secondly, an observatory tower for visitors during the day. They proposed that the buildings structural core would be made from concrete and built according to the contours of the coastline. Providing residents and visitors evacuated to the tower protection against the extreme heat of lava, whilst also reinforcing the importance of the buildings ability to blend into the landscape.
The Bartlett’s study has a clear emphasis on the ground, illustrating what architectural historian, Andreas Ruby describes as “inflated ground”. She explains, “instead of depositing the program as an object on the ground…it is injected like liquid”. With this satisfying description in mind, I turned my focus towards the ground space and the depth and surface of its coastal topography . I photographed homes built on and sunk into the coastline with curiosity rather than ridicule, trying to tenderly capture the vernacular architecture built into the surface with its various climatic modifications.