MIT graduate students Yuliya Bentcheva, Ryan Doone, Theodossis Issaias, and Jay Tapia, and MIT undergraduate students Fred Kim and Amanda Levesque have done their homework. Preparations for this project began in September, when Professor Jan Wampler selected them to participate in this highly competitive workshop. Students lined up for the opportunity to work closely with Professor Wampler to learn how to design and build a project for a real client: in this case, Starseed Ranch owners Andre and Jyoti Ulrych. Students spent two months researching Hawai‘i Island’s history, cultural landscape, economy, and society, as well as the island’s paniolo and plantation architectural heritage and the availability and cost of local building materials. Their assignment is to design affordable farm dwellings to house up to ten farming families on the land they will farm—a 100-acre parcel in North Kohala. Hawai‘i Island land costs prohibit many young families from farming since they cannot afford to buy or lease farm land or homes near to the land they are working. Jyoti Ulrych is keenly aware of the difficulties facing young farmers in North Kohala, and she is considering how to commit this 100-acre parcel to help solve these challenges.
Photo: After a productive day on the site, the morale is high and Professor Wampler prepares to bring what the design team has learned from its hosts back to MIT. From left to right: Laua‘e Beamer, Kamana Beamer, Jyoti Ulrych, Jan Wampler, and Erik Collins.
Very early on, the design team decided to cluster the farm dwellings in one location on the property so as to minimize infrastructure costs by utilizing a common roadway and utilities. The proposed dwellings will utilize solar energy and composting toilets and will be self-sustaining to the maximum extent possible. They will also utilize materials that are or could be locally available, such as bamboo, to keep building costs to a minimum and to provide viable designs and markets for these materials. The design team is hoping to complete four work products by January, when they will return to the island to meet with the landowner. These are: (1) a model structure testing bamboo and local materials; (2) an expanding house design with a few options for the owner to select amongst; (3) a layout for a cluster of such dwellings, including communal elements such as a day care center; and (4) an overall plan for the 100-acre site, including recommendations for which areas should be farmed, conserved, and developed for housing or roads. Professor Wampler is confident that the designs presented will be affordable and buildable at the site once the landowner obtains the necessary permits from the County. “If the landowner is on board, our work goes relatively quickly, and typically, our projects do get built,” says Wampler.
The MIT students are eager to apply their skills to help island residents. Here’s what they said about this project:
Photo: Professor Wampler and graduate student Yuliya Bentcheva listen to Dash's experience as a local farmer on acreage with similar site conditions. From left to right: Jan Wampler, Yuliya Bentcheva, Dash Kuhr, and Kamana Beamer.
My interest in the project stems from a desire to provide affordable housing for a segment of the population that does not often benefit from the skills of design professionals. And yet, it is within this practice area that architects have the greatest potential to achieve a meaningful impact on people's lives. –Jay Tapia
Visiting the site, talking to local residents, learning about the culture and history of Hawai‘i, was an incredibly eye-opening experience to work on a real project that helps the community in Hawai‘i. –Fred Kim
This experience has really driven home how great architecture revolves around the people who engage it and the land it extends from. I've never seen a place in which the people and the land are so intertwined as they are in Hawai‘i, so I know that this project has huge potential for success. –Amanda Levesque
This workshop is providing us with the opportunity to learn a great deal about Hawai‘i's culture and people, and to use this knowledge in order to address the current issues of housing. As a team, we are designing a dwelling that takes into consideration the importance of the land and nature. We are using local materials and designing self-sustaining systems that will work with natural resources. This workshop allows us to be a part of a project that will be realized in the near future and will hopefully make a difference in the community. –Yuliya Bentcheva
What is the architect’s proper cultural role in the international debate on global warming and sustainability? If architecture is a social art, how can its objectives be achieved? Questions like these are directly answered through this workshop. From the whole ideological spectrum of the architectural field we suggest a more cohesive and inclusive practice, where architects and future inhabitants are working together with respect to nature and the land, and the local characteristics and patterns of living. The Hawai‘i workshop has been so far one of the most valuable and didactic experiences I ever had, not only architectonically but also personally. –Theodossis Issaias
The Kohala Center extends a warm mahalo to Professor Wampler and his MIT design team, and we look forward to welcoming them back to our shores in January.
Photo: Elai Dankner (right), 2009 BELL-Hawai‘i scholarship recipient, and David Cadaos (left), an intern working in the forest, pull fountain grass as part of their service work at Ka‘ūpūlehu Dry Forest.
The Brown University Environmental Leadership Program was truly an eye-opening experience. I have been living on Hawai‘i Island for five years now, and I have become used to the beauty and rich culture surrounding me. The program gave me a chance to re-explore my surroundings and develop more respect and love for the place where I live through fun activities. I am truly grateful to have been part of such a diverse group of leaders and to have had the privilege to meet good friends with whom I share a concern for the environmental challenges of our world. –Elai Dankner, current senior at West Hawai‘i Explorations Academy and 2009 BELL-Hawai‘i scholarship recipient
A sensationally rewarding hands-on learning experience is one way to describe my adventures with the superbly put together BELL program. In eight days of non-stop enthusiasm, we traveled around the island participating in activities that even those living here hardly ever have the opportunity to enjoy. Not only was I given once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, such as the lashing of the Makali‘i, but I was also able to meet with students from across the country. I was able to build great connections with my fellow students, with our leaders, and with the various special guests we met along the way. Our leaders came from a variety of backgrounds, each contributing their own personal experiences to the program. A few of these relationships have already proven themselves useful along my pathway towards sustainability.
BELL was an experience that helped me better understand the island which I live on and all the opportunities which Hawai‘i could offer me. I joined HYCC (Hawai‘i’s Youth Conservation Corps) during the summer and am now continuing on with my education at UH Mānoa, hoping to pursue a degree in environmental studies. This is largely because of my involvement with BELL during the spring. This is not just a program which conveys an understanding of Hawai‘i’s geography, culture, and values, but it brings them all together by incorporating the theme of sustainability and crucial leadership skills. BELL leaves participants with a greater awareness of the Hawaiian Islands (as well as of the planet) and with the motivation to get involved and take charge within their own communities. –Maryam Palma, current freshman at UH Mānoa and 2009 BELL-Hawai‘i scholarship recipient
My family and the informal education they instilled in me have helped to keep me anchored within the ocean, connecting me to my identity as a contemporary Hawaiian. As a child, my grandmother’s sister would take me and all the other grandchildren out crabbing and torch fishing under the moon in Maunalua Bay, and my parents would dedicate weekends to experiencing the beach. When my interests moved from net fishing and body boarding to surfing and diving, I would ride my skateboard or catch the bus to the beach whenever I had a free moment. I hated being out of the ocean because it offered me a continual reminder of who I was in the midst of my rigorous academic endeavors. I came to find, however, that the ocean was more than a place of spiritual refuge—it was also the place that taught me how to navigate through an ever evolving and challenging life.
I attended Kahala Elementary on O‘ahu, and then Holy Nativity School for fourth through sixth grade. In seventh grade, I transferred to Punahou. It was there, in middle school, that I was first confronted with the perceived conflict between my unremitting love of being in the ocean and my desire to “succeed” and “progress” in this society. My personal relationship with the ocean has always been profound, yet I never believed the ocean could also offer me an intellectual means of progression. I had bought into the dominant narrative that surfing and other ocean activities were purely recreational and should not be overindulged lest one succumb to a life of laziness and disrespectability.
I attended Brown University for college, where I was exposed to many diverse cultures. This encouraged me to double major in history and international relations. I wanted to become an international human rights lawyer, so in 1999, I entered the double M.A. and J.D. program at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. During my first year in the graduate political science program, I worked with several brilliant professors, including Michael J. Shapiro, my mentor for this fellowship. I soon realized that my passion was not in pursuing justice and self-determination for peoples through the law, but rather through writing and the exploration of ideas. I completed my M.A. and decided not to enter the law program, but I was still uncertain about my career path. Ironically, it was the ocean which guided me back into academia and what I consider to be the most intellectually stimulating years of my life.Photo: Karin surfing at Mokulē‘ia Beach, O‘ahu.
In 2002, I accepted a dream summer position as a surf guide for a surf camp in Sāmoa on the island of Upolu. During this program, I realized that my surfing community has had a profound impact on indigenous communities throughout Oceania. I began to see underlying political, social, and ethical issues emerging from my surf fantasy—a fantasy that has been glossed over by surfing magazines, advertisements, and by the surf tourism industry. I began to see the impacts that our desire to ride waves has had on the island locales which surfers seek out to indulge their surf fantasies. Despite our perceived identities as organic beings, we are neither innocent nor benign voyagers, a truth which illuminates how our experiences and our practices often escape our intentions and philosophies. I realized that we are no longer merely a community of anti-establishment thrill-seekers; we are now also a group of international, neocolonial capitalists.
I began to reflect on the impacts that the surf tourism industry might be having in Hawai‘i, and I wondered how surf tourism was affecting Kānaka Maoli (the Hawaiian people). I asked myself how the surf industry plays a part in the neocolonial domination in Hawai‘i. And, more significantly, how does the indigenous activity of he‘e nalu (surfing), along with other oceanic activities, simultaneously provide itself as a means of empowerment for Hawaiians and all Pacific Islanders within this proliferating neocolonial surf tourism industry? With these questions, I entered the doctoral program at the University of Hawai‘i to explore how ocean-based knowledge is potentially empowering for Kānaka Maoli within the complex context brought on by the political colonization of Hawai‘i.
I decided to pursue a doctoral degree because of my experience in Sāmoa and my desire to understand how the indigenous sport of he‘e nalu offered Native Hawaiians a way of reconnecting to “self” in the face of a neocolonial reality, the surf tourism industry. I finished my degree in May of this year, and the best part about finishing has been the psychological freedom. I feel as if I have more time (although I don’t think I actually do) to dive into projects within the community. I can finally change my focus from completing the degree and from being a formal student to engaging the community as a professional, drawing upon the work I conducted at the university.
Photo: Karin’s great-grandfather, Yee See Kau, and grandfather, Paul Yee.
Since I was young I have noticed a heightened interest in honoring, learning more about, and preserving our Hawaiian identities alongside our other identities so that we can allow ourselves to be complex, i.e., both modern and indigenous individuals. I have seen this through the powerful resurgence efforts of learning and practicing ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i (Hawaiian language), hula, lauhala weaving, use of the Hawaiian language newspapers, ho‘okele (voyaging), etc., by my own friends and ‘ohana (family). I think this is part of a larger movement away from the disgrace and shame of the past, which were particularly embraced by my grandparents’ and even parents’ generations, to one of dignity and pride today.
My work attempts to articulate that “language” not only involves the spoken or written word. I believe that the Hawaiian language, particularly because of its colonial legacy, also includes the genealogy of history that is specifically Hawaiian. I rely on the language of the ocean to articulate contemporary Hawaiian concepts and to help me understand and relate to my own disconnected genealogy and place in Hawai‘i. This involves defining literacy as more than reading history, maps, and knowledge written on paper, but also reading history, maps, and knowledge written in the sea.
My concept of seascape epistemology is an approach to knowing presumed on knowledge of the sea, which tells one how to move through the sea and how to approach life and knowing through the movements of the world. I believe seascape epistemology offers a way of thinking for contemporary Native Hawaiians that is rooted in our genealogy and culture. It is an alternative literacy that is relevant to our region, and it is a literacy that has been marginalized by colonial notions of literacy. I hope that my concept helps to encourage a multi-sited understanding of literacy as a complex and constantly evolving skill embedded in interwoven sets of knowledge.
Photo: Karin (far right) and her ‘ohana (father Richard, sister Kina, Karin, mother Caroline) at Christmas 2004.
Engaging indigenous-based epistemologies allows for innovation and the implementation of new solutions in an effort to delve into the historical and psychological causes of poverty, poor educational opportunities, addictions, imprisonment, and chronic illnesses among Kānaka Maoli. I hope that this literacy can help to act as a catalyst in shifting the focus of our educational systems back toward our values of kuleana (responsibility) and mālama ‘āina (land stewardship) by using our islands as a classroom. We need to focus on issues of sustainability.
In my dissertation, I explored the idea of building a hālau o ke kai, which would develop as an educational center which teaches, applies, and supports oceanic literacy: ho‘okele, he'e nalu, lawai‘a (fishing), limu (underwater plants) picking, reef and ecological care, as well as knowledge about marine life and environment within the particular ahupua‘a (Hawaiian land division) in which the hālau would be located. The entire ahupua‘a will be emphasized in the hālau, upholding the Kanaka connection between mauka (inland) and makai (coastal). It will emphasize a connection to place through the restoration of fish ponds and native plants in the ahupua‘a, as well as other elements of the natural system.
I envision ka hālau o ke kai as consisting of a set of several hale (structures) which sit along a coastline, where students and kūpuna will meet daily for instruction, work, and/or activities. It is a place to realize the ideas, concepts, and theories of the academy, such as seascape epistemology, and where community culture, knowledge, and identity can be directly addressed and fostered. Bringing together academic strengths and abilities with those of Kanaka experience and culture creates a very powerful potential for Hawai‘i. The hālau o ke kai offers a space in which to engage the imagination for diverse and alternative futures prided in cultural confidence. It is an educational hub, a research site, as well as a cultural center for the youth and people of Hawai‘i.
Photo: Karin pulling invasive limu in Maunalua Bay.
Ka hālau will build upon the current work of charter and immersion schools, but it will focus entirely on the ocean and will also offer itself as a community center available for work "after" school (the school day would differ at the hālau) and on weekends. It will include charter and immersion schools in classes or even make ka hālau part of their curriculum. I believe this system will successfully engage youth because there will be a sense of ownership for ka hālau and the ‘āina on which the many hale sit. Students will embrace the responsibility of caring for the hālau using their newly learned knowledge and skills, because they have an investment in ka hālau—they will help to build and create it as part of their own community. Further, ka hālau will be a place for families to convene and meet while engaging in cultural recreation and education. Parents find a safe and positive place to leave their children and/or actively participate with their children. Ka hālau o ke kai draws upon Hawaiian ways of knowing, learning, and teaching, through place-specific values and cultural activities of survival and recreation. The goal is to create sensitive, well-rounded, moral, and interested individuals.
Being born and raised in Maunalua Bay, surfing its waves and fishing the lagoon, I am personally invested in helping to care for it. I have been working with Mālama Maunalua, a community-based organization that strives to preserve the Maunalua region through community kuleana. I participate in “Pakini Surveys” (a survey used to understand the status of our resources in the bay and our effects on them), hands-on limu huki (gathering) and educational outreach programs, alongside Mālama Maunalua’s partners, The Nature Conservancy, the Polynesian Voyaging Society, Hui Nalu Canoe Club, NOAA, and the University of Hawai‘i, among others, to educate elementary and high school students about the health of and marine life in the bay. In this way, students can better understand and are exposed to the dangers of, for example, pollutant run-off and invasive algae.
Photo: Karin and her husband, Russell, ready to push in one of the many loads of invasive limu that the volunteers and staff of Mālama Maunalua and The Nature Conservancy extracted from the bay.
I have also been working with Na Kama Kai, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower youth by creating, conducting, and supporting ocean-based programs, specifically ocean awareness and safety. I help with the group’s ocean clinics where I participate in the effort to get youth into the ocean to experience and to learn about both themselves and the ‘āina. Na Kama Kai is so effective because it brings underprivileged, foster, and land-locked youth down to the beach and offers them an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have, to engage in he‘e nalu, stand-up he‘e nalu, hoe wa‘a (paddling), and shaping papa he‘e nalu (surfboards). Involving myself with both of these organizations helps to ground me in my academic work and advances my goal to support cultural and environmental education though a physical and intellectual interaction with the ocean.
My husband, Russell Amimoto, is a captain of the Hōkūle‘a and a longtime member of the Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS), which is how I also became a member of the voyaging ‘ohana. I am not a voyager, having only participated in coastal sails and with fundraising efforts for voyages, but I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by some of the great watermen and women associated with PVS. Being part of the PVS ‘ohana has truly offered my work relevance, insight, and meaning as I witness one powerful way in which oceanic literacy is being practiced and lived today.
Photo: Karin and her husband, Russell Amimoto, with Hōkūle‘a at dock.
Being awarded the Mellon-Hawai'i Postdoctoral Fellowship is an honor, and I am embracing the experience. Having the opportunity to dedicate this year to writing my book manuscript is a privilege, but more significantly, the fellowship encourages the establishment of relationships between us as fellows, and between us and some of Hawai'i's leaders. We are surrounded by mentors with brilliant minds who are willing to listen to our ideas and encourage our work. It is a remarkable and humbling experience to be given the opportunity to work with such accomplished and supportive colleagues.
I have set three main goals for myself during my fellowship year. The first is to complete my first book manuscript, which is based on my concept of seascape epistemology. My second goal is to secure a book contract for publication of my manuscript. My third goal is to develop pa'a (strong) relationships within the community so that I can continue to learn and realize my goals of supporting ocean-based education and literacy. I want to contribute to the effort to get youth back into the ocean, not only so that they learn to love and protect it, but also so that they can connect with and feel empowered by it as they develop into strong and confident individuals and pursue their future professions, no matter what field they choose.