August 12, 2022
Craig Steely’s Musubi House is a Force of Nature
Capturing—and mitigating—these elemental forces was the assignment for Musubi House, a 2,200-square-foot residence perched high above the Big Island’s Hamakua coast on 100 acres of pastureland and native ohia forest. Designed by architect Craig Steely, who splits his time between Hawai‘i and San Francisco, the glass-and-concrete residence is a series of nested triangles, the largest of which resembles the nori-wrapped rice snack that gives the building its name. The house is topped by a monumental diamond-shaped roof that is “pointed right into the wind,” Steely says. “It’s like a ship,” oriented so that the eastern corner serves as a prow, deflecting the site’s buffeting trade winds, while an open-air atrium creates a visceral connection to the oft-changing weather patterns. “There are some days when it’s so bright and so still and other days when the fog will roll in and sort of sit inside of it,” the architect adds.
A live-work space for a pair of local commercial artists, Musubi House is completely off-grid, generating its electricity via a solar-tracking photovoltaic array and filtering rainwater runoff for use inside and outside the home. A ¾-mile-long road was built to access the site, but weather and the island’s rugged topography created logistical challenges during construction. Floods took out bridges; storms blew trees across the road. Steely compares the build to Fitzcarraldo, the Werner Herzog film in which an obsessive businessman persuades an Amazonian tribe to haul a riverboat up a steep mountainside with only manpower. “It took two years just to get the concrete done,” Steely says. “Honestly, Fitzcarraldo would have been easier. It would’ve been easier to drag a boat over the top of a mountain.”
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