It can be design shock to experience architecture in Hawai’i. At Fairmont Kea Lani, for example, the conceptual design of the hotel—on the southwest edge of Maui, near Wailea—is not “traditional” Hawaiian, but Moorish. Its larger forms resemble a Moroccan palace. Its innumerable details echo this style within the (blissful) constraints of the Mau’i landscape, and the demands of a resort.
In 1986, the development hired Mexican architect Jose Luis Ezquerra, an authority in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean art, architecture and archeology to design the property. According to the Fairmont’s well-sourced documentation, the design team sought to express the theory of Spanish origin in the discovery of Hawai’i: “In particular, the story of Spanish navigator Juan Gaetano, who was the first known European to visit Hawai’i and charted the islands in 1555.”
The result? Moorish colors and motifs, filtered through their Spanish and Mexican extensions, and rendered in Mauian uses. Under the palatial domes and arches of the property’s entry, the sense of arrival is overpowering. These curves extend throughout: balconies and bridges, lattice-work and lanais… all exhibit matching proportions. One can also get enjoyably lost in the smallest replications: Moroccan hanging lamps in lounge off the lobby; blue and white starburst wallpaper and carpeting; koi pond and outdoor furniture set against vertical villas.
Architectural Digest included the property among the best designed hotels on Mau’i. And, like Hawaii’i in general, it raises the question of just what is “authentic” culture in a place that – like many – has been impacted for centuries by many other cultures. The effect is also experienced in the islands’ food and music. But that’s another story… —Jack Skelley