"Three Houses" coastal house overlooking a fishpond that is incorporated within its design

Three houses our descendants might one day live in

Place Honolulu Museum of Art School
Text Aaron Katzeman
Art Sean Connelly

The day before CONTACT: Hawaiʻi 3017 opened, I spent several hours at a beach cleanup event. Bottle caps, straws, hair combs; even ice cream containers served as little plastic reminders of humanity’s impact on the Earth. Artists in this year’s CONTACT show imagine what the future will hold in store for the archipelago and, in doing so, touch on some of the most pressing problems facing Hawaiʻi, many of them manmade, including rampant plastic use, rising sea levels and loss of native species. These pieces have the potential to educate and inspire people, perhaps changing the course of our projected future for the better.

An architect by training, Sean Connelly presents a viable vision for Hawaiʻi defined not by plastic, but by lava rocks, palm leaf, wood and coral. Connelly’s "Three Houses" is a tangible model for homes of the future, each designed specifically for its location in the traditional ahupuaʻa system.

Connelly has long been interested in finding ways to regenerate Hawaiian watersheds and agricultural practices, even within our current urban infrastructure (also see his website for more). The materials for each 3017 house are sourced from its immediate surroundings, forcing purposeful design choices through geographical limits. The "plains" home uses thatching to efficiently keep the heat of the day out. The "coastal" home is cantilevered over a fishpond. The forest home is integrated into the rocky landscape with a lava rock exterior. All of the houses are all multi story (but not necessarily skyscrapers), meant to accommodate a large number of people. This is Connelly's urban island future, conceptualized within the principles of architecture: stacked dwellings perfect for living ʻohana style, open to imu pits, forests and the ocean.

Detail of the thatched Loulu wall on the plains house

"As shelter pervades every aspect of mind, society and environment, notions of 'The House' are subject to divergent demands," Connelly writes in his artist's statement. "The associated and embedded conflicts emerging amongst these various demands, with reference to consumption, capacity, culture, and cost, are resolved only within the event of 'The House' itself."

Based on past approaches of land use, Connelly’s futuristic thinking links environmental concerns with architectural sustainability, suggesting we might someday be able to return to a sustainable, thriving lifestyle. This sort of thinking will likely become crucial to our survival, and so it is the purpose of artists and art to be the vanguard in advancing these concepts within the public sphere.

Connelly will be leading a workshop on the built environment of the ahupuaʻa system on Sunday, April 9, at 4p.m. at the Honolulu Museum of Art School at Linekona.


Summit is Hawaii's magazine of ideas and style for the global citizen. We're named for Queen Kapiolani's motto, "kulia i ka nuu," strive for the summit. Summit is available on fine newsstands throughout North America and the Asia-Pacific region.

2017 S King Street
Honolulu, Hawaii 96826
Ikaika Hussey
Creative Director
Mae Ariola
Will Caron
Copy Editor
Karen Shishido
Assistant Editor
James Charisma