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Aloha Spirit: Conversation with Mark de Reus



When you visit an island paradise like Hawaii, usually the last thing on your mind is the architecture. After all, who has time to admire post-and-beam construction (or walls for that matter!) when you’re lounging on the sand with a Mai Tai in your hand? No… when you’re on island time, life on the mainland melts away as the overwhelming natural beauty of Hawaiian landscape comes into focus: azure panoramas of the Pacific, swaying palms, emerald valleys, lush rainforests and sweeping volcanic cliffs. Mark de Reus, however, manages to harmonize the two in a way few architects can. He explains: “Finding relevance with the local culture is always a component to our work, and one that will allow the design to feel appropriate to its location.”

The AD100 architect understands the intricacies of designing vacation homes (which he says is an outdated term, since “today’s lifestyles give people the ability to work from anywhere”) and high-end resorts—like the acclaimed Kukio Golf Club on Hawaii’s North Kona Coast, which helped launched his firm in the Pacific Rim in 2005. Joseph Giovannini describes the Kukio Club this way: “The implication is that the building belongs here because its tradition originates here…the building defers to nature. The wisdom of the project is that it has presence without interposing itself between the two because it is elemental.” Herein lies the beauty of the “Aloha Spirit,” or what de Reus calls “a quality that can be tangibly felt in the boundless hospitality of Hawaii and a pace of life that values friendship over the urgency of business.”

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Interestingly enough, de Reus is inspired as much by ancient Balinese temples as he is by Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright. His Tropical Craftsman Residence on the Kohala Coast, for example, combines the simple elements found in traditional tropical architecture and high craftsmanship—right down to the stone detailing and the Southeast Asian-inspired stepped doorway headers. This level of detail gives his work just the sort of depth that has garnered the attention of Architectural Digest, HGTV and now, Previews Inside Out.

Previews Inside Out Your firm has designed resorts in Hawaii, Indonesia and Mexico. What would you say is the unifying quality in all of these projects?

Mark de Reus The unifying quality for these projects is that we have allowed circumstance to inform our designs for these locations. Natural settings exert powerful influences on design and our search is always to create a place out of circumstance that feels appropriate, timeless and in harmony with the surroundings. Invariably each design is different because of individual circumstance, overt and subtle, that shape planning and design.

Previews Inside Out What inspires you as an architect?

Mark de Reus Clients that appreciate the potential transformational benefits of design are inspirational. Just as significant as the appreciative client, finding inspiration in nature and the land is powerful. Finding relevance with the local culture is always a component within the inspired concept, and one that will allow the design to feel appropriate to its location. The more formal aspects of composition and proportion are important to bringing inspiration into completeness.

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Previews Inside Out When you look at your design portfolio, which residential project are you most proud of?

Mark de Reus The Ka’upulehu residence, featured in our book, Tropical Experience comes to mind as one I am very proud of and that is close to my heart.  Several years before this commission, a client gave me a gift at the completion of his home: touring the ancient temples in Kyoto. The experience was one of my most seminal architectural experiences—right up there with seeing the Borobudur temple in Java or the Ronchamp chapel in France! The Ka’upulehu home was my first design opportunity finding inspiration from Kyoto and the beautiful and artful ancient temples.

Previews Inside Out What lesson did it teach you?

Mark de Reus There is a lesson to learn from every design assignment. The one with this project goes back to the pivotal point when the artistic design vision took shape from recognizing the elegant simplicity of using three subtle roof curves on the main lanais to reflect the ocean swells as they come over the horizon and crash into the edge of the island just below the home. The power of simplicity is the lesson.

Previews Inside Out Do you approach a home that is going to be a primary residence differently than you would a vacation residence?

Mark de Reus Our design approach toward an ancillary residence is the same as a primary residence or a resort. The design vision is shaped and crafted to a client’s lifestyle needs and preferences. The design is derived from circumstance, inspiration and collaboration with the client.

Previews Inside Out What would you say is the single-most important feature in a vacation home?

Mark de Reus Rather than a feature, I believe there is an overarching necessity to create places that are in harmony with their surroundings, that exude well-crafted design and that achieve a sense of permanence. We find clients resonate with the result when this is achieved.

Previews Inside Out If you were going to purchase a vacation home, where would it be and what would be the one architectural element you would look for?

Mark de Reus It would be in New Zealand or Montana overlooking a beautiful river full of trophy trout, and it would have a large covered porch with a stone fireplace.

Mark de Reus is the founding design partner of Hawaii-based de Reus Architects. He has over 36 years of experience and a diverse portfolio of projects around the globe including Kukio Golf Club, Ka’upulehu Beach Club and Bali Villa Hotel in Indonesia. Current projects include Punta Sayulita Resort, Mexico; Kohanaiki Resort on the Big Island and a Discovery Land Company resort project on Maui.

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Aloha Spirit: Conversation with Mark de Reus

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