Translating Traditional Hawaiian Hale

“The lines are too straight,” was a common complaint of Francis Sinenci, the master hale builder who consulted on many of the hale projects MASON has undertaken.

From his perspective it makes sense. The natural logs harvested to create the Pouomanu (center post), Kauhuhu (main ridge post), and the other structural members of a hale are not straight. The stones that make up the perimeter walls are not straight. But drafting architectural drawings on a computer means the lines that comprise the image of the hale are clean, straight, and usually perpendicular.

Creating architectural drawings for traditional Hawaiian Hale is less about design, and more about translation. It is about taking the hand sketches from historical recordings and the wealth of practical knowledge of the hale builders, and determining how to synthesize that information into a computer-drafted drawing. It is not a drawing that will completely reflect reality, but a representation that those without knowledge of traditional Hawaiian structures can examine and understand as if it were the drawing set of a typical contemporary building.

Hawaiian Hale are not ordinary construction projects. For example: how do you cut a building section through a Hawaiian Hale? With great patience and a lot of head scratching. The first building section was the most challenging. It required a framing diagram sketch, photos of completed hale from the internet, and a time-lapse video of the hale construction from one of Mr. Sinenci’s previous projects to figure out that first section. “Arts and Crafts of Hawaii” by Sir Peter Buck was consulted for lashing details.

Each type of hale has its own unique quirks, its own complexity. The Hale Noa sometimes has a pani (sliding door). The Hale Umu has a removable roof, to prevent the flammable thatch from catching on fire while the imu is in use. All of these quirks need to be drawn and detailed to fully describe each hale. Other types of Hale include Hale Ola, Hale Ike, Hale Wa’a, and Hale Halawai; all of which serve different functions. It was with great cheer and a feeling of immense satisfaction when the last line was drawn on that first construction set of drawings, and that feeling has grown with every project since.

-Story by Elena Brown

Hale Noa Building Section

Door Detail

Watch Ka Hale: A Revival, a People's Choice Award winner in the 2018 AIA Film Challenge, to learn more about hale building.

Ka Hale: A Revival

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