Make Shelter 001 / A Tipi on Molokai, Hawaii

Engineer, designer, woodworker, surfer and creative mind, Jason Smith-Vidaurre lives in Hawaii on the remote east end of Molokai; an island rich in open land and its small, tight knit population. Despite the innate solitude that this removed region provides, Jason’s tipi was born from a desire for privacy and mobility.

Seeing the tipi from a distance is akin to viewing a pinhole in an expanse of fabric. Located deep in a lush valley, the tipi’s current site is surrounded by thick citrus and mango groves. The hand stitched doorway looks out over a small outcropping of heavily laden coconut trees and just beyond, the view turns from green to blue with Jason’s beloved surf spot peeking out in the distance.

The location was both a given and an inspiration. “I was inspired by the landscape in the valley. I felt that a tipi would really vibe with the land here, and that the land would appreciate it and be open to it… aesthetically, I thought it would be beautiful.”   This vibrant valley is also home to Jason’s mentor and dear friend. This friend, along with a small cohort of homesteaders that depend on the valley for food, shelter and privacy, granted Jason an area for his own self-made space.

While a love for the valley served as inspiration to build the tipi and create a getaway, the ability to be nomadic was an important focus-mirroring both the migratory needs of the tipi’s original designers and this modern maker’s quest for ultimate flexibility and resourcefulness. The tipi’s posts  were intentionally cut to a length that can be easily transported in the back of Jason’s 4 wheel drive pick up and he is quick to remind you that its about the tipi itself-not just the location.

An ode to traditional design as well as local resources, Jason’s tipi is an amalgamation of several different nation’s design features-chosen and implemented to mitigate and compliment the Hawaiian climate.  In a place where rainfall is the norm, the ability to stay dry is crucial for basic comfort.  To deal with water and wet, Jason combined two traditional features to lessen rainfall inside the tipi. Small bamboo sticks are fastened to the interior poles to guide rainwater behind a carefully constructed inner liner, keeping the main space dry.  The Sioux are credited for this stick design and the Cheyenne for the inner liner.  Such subtle details as these comprise the overall composition, although you might not notice them without an engineer’s eye or a tour from the maker. Instead of traditional pine or spruce,  bamboo posts harvested from the valley support the structure, and were cured in the ocean for weeks with an anchoring system that survived Hurricane Iselle.

For Jason, his tipi is a place to “have a fire, to eat and sleep.”  This space makes him grateful for the outdoors around him, and the valley he can call home-at least until its time to pack the tipi in the truck and find the next spot. A work of love in many ways, the bulk of tipi construction occurred with the help of Jason’s long term girlfriend, Brittany.  “Working on the tipi together brought out the best and worst in us…In the end, the result was sweeter because of it.”