Croatia-born windsurf-sail designer Robert Stroj first moved to the Hawaiian island of Maui 14 years ago. He had left his homeland at the beginning of the Balkan war and spent stints living in Italy, France and Spain prior to the Pacific emigration. Like most émigrés, he got to know his new homeland from the driver’s seat and would frequently cruise around the island looking for a place to lay his proverbial hat. It was during a drive around the wild, windy northern coast years later when he finally happened across a grassy flat below the West Maui mountains.
“It looked to us the perfect place to build the house, have undisrupted views down the cliffy coast and have plenty of sea breeze to keep it cool,” says Stroj. He and his wife spotted a boy riding a quad bike around the neighbourhood and three years later persuaded the boy’s uncle to sell them the land. With the help of Slovenian architectural firm Dekleva Gregoric Arhitekti, whose founders are friends of Stroj, the slow-burning residential project has finally taken shape.
And the shape of this dream home is a remarkable one. As you approach the house from the hills, it looks like a silver-backed beetle crouching on the clifftop. “We wanted to build a house as an icon,” explains Aljosa Dekleva of Dekleva Gregoric Arhitekti.
The architects’ desire to create something structurally monumental clashed with the more temporal building techniques used locally (“You know the story of the three pigs?” quips Dekleva), and the architects had to bring in concrete blocks to construct the building. “The client wanted to have a solid house,” he explains. “With the [strong] wind and everything, it’s a better feeling.”
The end result certainly looks sturdy from above and yet the house underneath that sheltering roof is largely breezy and open – there is about 250 sq m of interior space matched with roughly equal volumes of covered outside space. Not only does this openness create a very comfortable cross-breeze but the balance of indoor and outdoor also makes the perfect place to entertain: even the roof is used as a deck where Robert, his wife Drazena and two young sons, Miha and Jaka, can hang out with guests and their dog, Kea. From there they watch whales swim in the water below.
The family has a collective hippie spirit, evident from a desire to have as many spaces facing the ocean as possible. Each room is a self-contained, U-shaped volume, with the open side facing the ocean. This collection of U-shapes is topped with the roof, covered in Ipe wood. Robert and Drazena were keen to use natural materials wherever possible. “We are happy to have achieved this,” says Stroj. “There are no paints used anywhere in the house. All walls are covered by custom-made stucco mixed from white concrete, coral sand, dune sand and lime. All wood is just oiled with pure tung oil and there is no lacquer or polyurethane used anywhere.”
In sum total, it’s an original and brave take on eco home-building that encourages architecture to speak just a little less loudly than nature. Two years after it was completed, the Stroj family now has the perfect place in which to enjoy the striking landscape of their new homeland – as their architects always intended. It was worth the wait.
“When we first came here, the power of nature was overwhelming,” says Dekleva. “The volcano and the vegetation and the wind; it was already perfect.”
Dekleva Gregoric Arhitekti CV
2002 Aljosa Dekleva and Tina Gregoric met at the School of Architecture in Ljubljana. After graduating they went to the Architectural Association, London, receiving Master degrees in architecture.
2003 They set up Dekleva Gregoric Arhitekti in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
2004 Their work receives attention with the XXS house in Ljubljana, which is awarded Silver Plate at the European Architecture Award Luigi Cosenza.
2009 Their metal recycling plant, ODPAD, was shortlisted for the Mies van der Rohe Award and awarded at the International Architecture Awards 2009 and Plecnik’s Medal prize in Slovenia.
2012 The office was selected in a Highly Commended group of practices for the 21 for 21 WAN Awards; the clifftop house in Maui came second for the AIT Award in the Luxury Living category.
2013 Housing Perovo and Cultural Centre of EU Space Technologies nominated for Mies van der Rohe Award.