Kosrae Village Resort
KVR is currently comprised of 12 bungalows, a restaurant/lounge and dive center; construction of roughly 6 more bungalows is planned and three of these are currently underway. The resort is located on five acres adjoining the ocean with the buildings spaced in such a manner as to allow privacy while still maintaining the quality of a village. Though relatively new, the KVR is showing signs of economic success and considered by many to be the most pleasant accommodations on the island.

The design of the individual bungalows is based on the lohm, a traditional Kosraean thatched bungalow. Modifications to the original design include a private bathroom, hot and cold running water, electricity, and structural changes that increase the building’s strength and weathering qualities. One of the few tourist facilities on Kosrae that is not air-conditioned, human comfort is maintained through the use of air exchange and ceiling fans; the woven walls and thatch roofs are quite breathable. Mosquitoes and other insects have access to the interior of the bungalows, but during the day this is seldom a problem. At night the mosquitoes are dealt with via netting tents that enclose the beds.

While structural alterations from the traditional methods are many, impact on the aesthetics is minimal. The indigenous method of construction uses mangrove poles lashed together with twine made from coconut husks (see Appendix A). Poles along the exterior are buried in the ground to establish a stable base on which to build the house frame. The floor is sometimes raised from the ground and framed in a similar fashion as the rest of the building. The structure is surfaced with a porous material that maximizes air circulation. Rafter poles are set at a 45 degree angle and a tie pole parallel to the ground holds the roof form.

Diagonal wall bracing was not used in traditional Kosrae architecture. In the modern alteration, walls are covered with a woven mat of a bamboo-type reed which is crushed and then split open and flattened. This material is then woven into a herringbone pattern. The glossy outer surface of the reed, because of its weather-resistant quality, is usually placed on the outside of the structure. The roof, as mentioned earlier, is of thatch. A special woven ridge cap, sometimes made from pandanus, is laid in place and sewn through the rest of the thatching.

The ridge of a thatch roof is difficult to seal and is usually the first point to leak. Newer materials have been used to address this weak point even when a traditional structure is desired. Throughout my travels in Micronesia I noticed that many of the traditionally built thatch roofed houses now have corrugated galvanized steel ridge caps. KVR addressed this problem with an elegant solution: they followed the traditional method, but placed one layer of light gauge aluminum flashing under the woven ridge cap. With this slight modification, the integrity of the ridge more closely follows the durability of the general roof area. The comfort and aesthetics of a traditional thatch roof are maintained and the reliance on imported materials is minimized.

The method of anchoring the building to the ground at KVR was done with similar attention to detail and minimal use of expensive imported materials. Traditionally, the posts of mangrove were buried in the ground; even though the wood is highly resistant to rot, this point of contact with the ground was one of the weak points of the structure. At KVR they replaced the below ground assembly with concrete, making a mechanical connection to the wooden posts a few inches above grade, and treated the posts with disodium octaborate tetrahydride (a water based wood preservative thought to have a minimum impact on the environment). This type of mechanical connection is often done to resist movement, however, in this case it functions primarily as a pin or hinged connection.

The traditional method of attachment is lashing. As mentioned earlier, in the past twine made from the husks of coconuts was wound in intricate patterns around structural members holding them fast. The more modern method implemented at KVR was to use mechanical fasteners, lag screws, and bolts through the members and then to conceal this connection with an ornamental lashing. This solution came about as a means to reduce the time of construction. As with western construction of the past, the joinery was often the point where the craftsman would demonstrate his skills. I think this is also the case with the craftsmen in Micronesia. The tensile strength of the lashing and the fact that the material encompasses the members to be joined produces an extremely strong and flexible joint.

The last of the major construction innovations at KVR has to do with framing. They implemented the use of diagonal members in their wall framing. This addition substantially increased the rigidity of the structure.

The roof modification is in my mind a solid and unquestionably sound solution. The concrete footings, mechanical fastening, and diagonal bracing have some value but pay for this in the loss of structural ductility. I believe the increased rigidity of the KVR construction methods might be prone to catastrophic failure whereas the more flexible traditional assembly will bend and not break. Given the protection the surrounding trees afford at KVR, these buildings will probably not be tested to failure.

At Kosrae Village Resort I met with Madison Nena, the local owner of the resort. Madison was in charge of the tourism office on Kosrae up until a few years ago. While there, he organized the construction of the new building that now houses the office of tourism. It was built in the traditional manner and is one of the few buildings of this type of construction on the island. It was Madison’s idea to construct KVR in the traditional manner. His partners, Bruce Brandt and Katrina Adams are from the United States; Bruce has worked in the construction industry in San Francisco and was responsible for many of the construction innovations implemented at KVR.

Madison introduced me to Jarino Koyama, one of the men who was building the new bungalows. Jarino showed me around the construction site and described the process. It turned out that he was also interested in building a house of traditional construction for himself. One of the reasons he was working at KVR was to gain experience with traditional construction; he viewed his job as an occupational training program. I learned that the other men working at KVR had similar views – they were planning to build their own houses in the traditional manner and valued their experience at KVR.

I met with Bruce Brandt, Madison’s partner. Bruce and his wife Katrina moved to Kosrae for the purpose of setting up a resort as their retirement project. Their original ideas were more conventional, but when Madison suggested using traditional construction methods, they adopted these quickly. A similar resort was built on Pohnpei twenty years earlier and has been quite successful. With his construction experience, Bruce was able to creatively address the weaknesses of the indigenous architecture and adapt it to suit the expected tourist demands.

Bruce is delighted with how the resort has evolved; though it’s not always full, visitation is increasing. Compared with the other hotels and resorts it is doing well. One point worth noting: Bruce thinks they have fewer business visitors because of the lack of air conditioning; he has determined that the loss of revenue is more than offset by KVR’s reduced electric bill.

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