Kua Bay Residence

Honor Award

Residential Design

Kona, Hawaii, USA
Lutsko Associates

"Created in the point of transition between mountain and ocean, this serene vacation retreat in Kona on Hawaii Island is a finely crafted microcosm of geology, landscape, and culture. Movement through the property is a journey through a sequence of spaces inspired by the flow of the elemental forces of lava and water toward the Pacific. The progression of experiences begins with a driveway cut through a 10-foot-high channel of lava rock, moves through a contemplative interior courtyard with reflecting pools mimicking ponds that form in lava formations, passes through the house itself, and finally ends where the negative-edge pool melds seamlessly with the ocean beyond."

- 2019 Awards Jury

Project Credits

  • Ron Lutsko (Lead Designer)
  • Will Gunn and Andrea Kovol (Landscape Architect)
  • Architect: Walker Warner Architects, Greg Warner and John Pierson
  • Contractor: Robin Ledson
  • Landscape Contractor: Myles Nonaka
  • Civil Engineer: Kona Wai Engineering
  • Lighting Designer: Eric Johnson Associates

Project Statement

This single family residence on Hawaii’s dry, volcanic Kona shore draws on the elemental forces that shaped the land to contextualize its material design and embed human aesthetic experience within the landscape. The site is on a transect from a mountain top to the ocean, two extremes of the Hawaiian landscape. The design team collaborated to develop a series of indoor-outdoor living spaces that trace the narrative from mountain to ocean, taking cues from Hawaii’s geological and cultural history. The material choices serenely distill the unique colors and textures of the surrounding landscape. Beginning on the mountain side of the site, a sequence of spaces emerges from a cleft in lava bedrock, proceeds through a freshwater oasis-like interior courtyard, finally opening out to an expansive view of the ocean. The visitor’s journey terminates at the pool deck where the pool emulates and seemingly merges with the vast ocean beyond.

Project Narrative

Immense geological churning formed the coast of Kona, as lava spilled onto the western reaches of the island of Hawaii and solidified into a raw, rocky shore over the last 5000 years. Poised between a still active volcano and the Pacific, the Kua Bay residence calls on these powerful natural forces to contextualize its material design and embed human aesthetic experience within the landscape. Thoughtful collaboration throughout the design process ensured that the architecture and landscape design were integrated into a seamless composition to achieve these results.

Rainfall is scarce on the lava beds of Hawaii’s dry Kona coast, with hardy wild shrubs and grasses clinging on to bare rock. The site was selected for its expansive ocean view with the island of Kaho‘olawe floating on the horizon. The clients imagined a calm and contemplative vacation retreat for their family and guests. The program called for a swimming pool, spaces to entertain, with a contemporary, minimalist approach to materials and planting.

When the design team visited the site, they discovered that the entry drive and much of the building site were carved ten feet down into the lava bed. This surprising feature hid the ocean from view upon arrival but offered a unique view of the remaining rock formations. Rather than trying to build up or excavate more lava, the design team saw potential in the deeply excavated site, using the rocky lava walls to frame the outdoor living spaces.

The site’s orientation was a second influence on the design approach. The lot is long and narrow, lying on a transect between the nearest mountain top, Hualalai, and the coast. In Hawaii, the mountains and ocean always define direction. The words Mauka, mountain side, and Makai, ocean side, are often more useful than North and South, as the major roads all follow the coastline. In response, the site design sequences distinct landscape spaces that emerge from lava rock and culminate in a sweeping view of the ocean.

A third element of the native landscape that informed the design is the Anchialine pond, a fresh water source often found between mountains and ocean. In volcanic, tropical islands worldwide, water tends to seep through porous young lava bedrock and gather in pools at low elevations. Anchialine ponds historically provided fresh water for drinking and irrigation, as well as unique habitat for aquatic life. The landscape architect took inspiration from the mountains, the ocean and the lifegiving Anchialine ponds found along the aforementioned transect. Water and lava, drawn by gravity to the ocean, became the major guiding forces in the sequence of travel through the site.

The site journey begins in a mountain landscape. The driveway cuts an arcing channel through ten feet of raw lava rock on either side. Black basalt cobbles flow from wall to wall, filling the edges of the excavation like a lava flow. The contemporary, refined paving material is at home in the rocky landscape while contrasting with the rough landforms. Pennisetum grasses and wispy Kiawe trees pull in the color and texture of the raw surrounding landscape. The arrival court intensifies the refined interpretation of the wild lava landscape. Flame trees puncture the basalt paving. Weathered steel panels and rows of steel rods enclose the space and screen the interior courtyard from view.

Beyond the autocourt, a series of reflecting pools offers respite from the harsh landscape, drawing visitors into an oasis-like space. This central courtyard, encompassing the living spaces, is built from the concept of an anchialine pond, where freshwater gathers in lava rock. The arid landscape falls away and the stone underfoot gives way to a springy lawn. To one side, reflecting pools enhance the sculptural characteristics of the natural lava as they emerge from the rock walls and spill into the courtyard. Two rows of tabebuia trees flank the other side of the lawn, echoing the airy refinement of the hale, or house.

The floor plan was conceived with no hallways, instead connecting rooms with covered outdoor passages. The house rests on a stone plinth to ground it in the landscape, while a large opening through the interior living space creates an aperture to the ocean beyond. The landscape architect and architect worked in tandem to create indoor-outdoor rooms that flow from one space to the next. Guest rooms open onto shady patios tucked into lava rock formations, planted with taro and ginger, Polynesian crops that reference anchialine ponds.

Materials were carefully chosen to serenely distill the colors and textures of this unique place. Basalt cobbles at the driveway contrast their simplicity with raw lava landforms. Slabs of lighter basalt make up floating steps and the plinth of the house, matching the building material and referencing the surrounding lava fields. Blonde gravel echoes the colors of wild grasses on the lava fields. Stone pool tiles were carefully selected to pick up the precise blue of the ocean.

From the lush central courtyard, visitors gaze through the main hale’s sliding glass doors for a glimpse of the ocean. The living space opens onto a gracious deck with a negative edge pool that sits perfectly flush with the deck. The deck terrace, with built in furniture, planters and fire pit, provides ample space for the owners to dine, lounge, and play. The quiet minimalism of all these built-in elements serves to eliminate distractions from the expansive sense of space at the edge of the inhabited landscape. The visitor’s journey terminates at the pool deck with the merging of constructed pool and ocean. The pool’s far edge seems to disappear, creating a seamless connection to the vast ocean beyond, the final destination of water that travels through the site.


Product Sources: SOILS

  • Per contractor

Product Sources: HARDSCAPE

  • Texture Inc., Basalt Cobbles
  • Texture Inc., Basaltina Stone

Product Sources: LIGHTING

  • Lighting design by Eric Johnson Associates

Product Sources: FURNITURE

  • Custom-built furniture by contractor

Product Sources: DRAINAGE

  • Custom drainage by contractor; Kona Wai Engineering

Product Sources: FENCE/GATES

  • Custom-built by contractor

Product Sources: IRRIGATION

  • Rain Bird

Product Sources: LUMBER/DECKING

  • Per contractor

Plant List:

  • Prosopis Pallida (Kiawe Tree)
  • Tabebuia berteroi (White Trumpet Tree)
  • Delonix regia (Flame Tree)
  • Pennisetum (Dwarf Fountain Grass)
  • Paspalum vaginatum (Seashore Paspalum Grass)
  • Hedychium coronarium 'White Ginger' (White Ginger Lily)