Modeling the Mongoose: How Biomimicry is Informing the Development of an Ulupalakua Maui Property

May I introduce you to Verna the mongoose. She lives under the shade of that giant Kukui tree (center frame in the picture above) amongst piles of lava and decaying carpet at this remote Maui location. The tranquil red boned Kaho’olawe rests like a curled sleeping dog out in the glistening Pacific beyond. The breeze orchestrates a soft percussive prelude in the kukui leaves, a half-cocked bathtub rests on a concrete block a few feet below, catching the winter rains and in the nearby two-walled parlor, Miss Havisham’s chandelier struggles to sing its crystal tinkles through a crowded strangling of glycine. We are not in the post-apocalypse; instead we are tasting the future, guided by the wisdom of the natural world.

Architecture Laboratory

I haven’t explicitly shared this with Verna yet, but this place is my new laboratory, and she is my professor. This land is a playground for the imagination and a conduit for wisdom to arise. I’ve spent hours of sitting quietly here, meditating with eyes closed, letting the birds explore me, listening to Verna shuffle around doing her day’s business. Offering up to the flies and mosquitos the occasional tasty sip of my red blood. Here is where the slow reveal has been happening. The fuel of my curiosity mixed with the combustion chamber of silence and time has allowed a few compelling realizations to arise:

  1. The planet is generous.
  2. The natural world creates “home” out of found elements.
  3. I must follow this example.

Houses are Obsolete

At a recent Realtors Caravan, a colleague asked me with the best of intentions, “Are you going to build a house out there?” My response was visceral and unconscious. “A house???” I thought to myself. How gross! The thought of building a house on this land would be like punching an old lady in the ribs. “Houses are obsolete,” I blurted out. I didn’t even understand why I was saying it, but now it makes sense. I mean, when you live in the most beautiful place in the world, why would you ever want a house? A giant structure to isolate you from what you love? A monstrous prison of unnecessary mass, and unnecessary expense? Does a fish want a house? Does a deer want a house? Does Verna want a house? Not at all. A fish finds a great cave in a coral reef. A deer finds a sheltered indentation in the meadows. Verna finds a bed in a lava tube. This is how the natural world finds home.

To get you up to speed on what currently exists on the land, take a look at the following video poem:

Farm to Table for Architecture: Hyperlocal Sourcing of Materials

In thinking about what construction materials and architectural style, at first I thought of simple wooden cabins. (Using wood from Canada??). But does a bird do this? Did Verna hele on down to Home Depot and order lumber? No. A bird looks around and investigates local materials — within a few hundred feet and builds their nest with this. Verna discovered some shelter under a partially degraded shack. In keeping with my commitment to model the mongoose, it dawned on me that the land is covered in plentiful and solid lava rock. (Duh… didn’t the Hawaiians build their hale out of piled lava with grass thatch?) Why do we complicate our lives so much and fail to look at sensible and obvious innovations of the past? So the task is now to be like Verna, or the bird, and gather materials from within a few hundred feet of the site to construct the shelter.

Inspiration found at the Maui Winery

I didn’t have to look far for inspiration. Roughly one mile from the subject property is this charming appropriately-sized cottage (actually the old ‘Ulupalakua Jail!) built out of Lava rock and mortar with a rough-hewn wood roof. Perfection! Using the plentifully available lava rock on the land, it makes sense to eschew lumber, siding, etc. in favor of this hyper-locally sourced material. My next steps are to research rock wall construction.

If you would like to meet Verna and tour this or other properties on Maui, please reach out, and I would be happy to set that up for you.

Liam Ball RB-21691 | 808.280.7809 |

Comments (3) Show CommentsHide Comments (Remember)

Cool. Add your comment...

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave your opinion here. Please be nice. Your Email address will be kept private, this form is secure and we never spam you.


July 2, 2019

I really want to read your diaries Liam <3


July 2, 2019

> SMOOOCH. Thanks. 🙂

Beth Robinson

July 4, 2019

SO incredibly cool, Liam. Guest cottage on the way?

More Articles from Hawaii Life