In Hawaiian, Kea Lani means 'heavenly white', an appropriate description of the luxury Fairmont Kea Lani resort in Wailea, Maui. Similar to the white plumeria, a striking flower commonly found along the island's shoreline and one of the resort's inspirations, Fairmont Kea Lani distinguishes itself quite notably even among its esteemed and architecturally pleasing peers. Many are surprised to learn that this remarkable luxury Wailea resort reflects homage to traditional Hawaiian architectural influences.
The resort opened in December of 1991, however, the conceptual design of the hotel began in 1986 with Jose Luis Ezquerra, an authority nonpareil in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean art, architecture and archeology. As a student at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma De Mexico, Ezquerra continually strove to transcend what he saw as constraints in the dominant Bauhaus movement of the day. He helped develop the Mexican 'lejanista' style. An original form of architecture, lejanista blends not only past and present in planning and interior design, but also reflects expressions of distinct Western and Eastern cultures.
The architect and his design team were enthusiastic about justifying the Kea Lani Wailea oceanfront concept culturally and imbuing it with Hawaiian eccentricity. Indeed, before the first drafting pencil was lifted, priority one became getting to know their canvas. Ezquerra first turned to Donald Graham. A well-respected individual with a love for the Islands since 1943, Graham housed an extensive library on Hawaii. He proved to be a valuable source of information and recommended they liaise with renowned artist Herb Kawainui Kane. Kane's series of paintings, Travel: History of the Discovery of Hawaii, evoke the odyssey of the balsas from the Ra'iatea and Tahiti routes, and that of the Marquesa Islands in Polynesia.
The design team met with the artist at his Kona plantation on the Big Island. Kane regaled the creative team with stories and legends. All seemed to lend support to the theory of Spanish origin in the discovery of Hawaii. In particular was the story of Spanish navigator Juan Gaetano, who was the first known European to visit Hawaii and charted the islands in 1555. Kane later produced small figurines that he unearthed on the eastern coast of the Big Island, which represented New Spanish type individuals.
"It is true that Kea Lani is an architectural descendant of Las Hadas", confirms Ezquerra whose Manzanillo seaside property changed the face of international resort architecture. "However, the professional work of the project's co-architect Francis Oda, Group 70 Honolulu was notable in the adaptation of the pragmatic, constructive and finishing realities of Hawaii".
As he interpreted Hawaiian architecture, Ezquerra sought a cultural link between the Kea Lani Wailea resort and two other native landmarks. He accomplished his goal with truly eye-opening results. The first was the architecture of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Built in 1927 on Hispano-Mexican and native models, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel is, without doubt, the heart and soul of Waikiki. Ezquerra's next choice was the Iolani Palace, now a museum in Honolulu. Neo-classical and white, it was built by King Kalakaua and carries the distinction of being the only royal palace in the U.S. Several of Honolulu's banks also share the same neo-classical themes and decorative elements quite typical of the Islands.
The Old Mexico-Hawaiian parallels do not end there. Pineapples were first brought to Hawaii from Spain in 1813. And on Maui, for example, Ezquerra took note of an equestrian tradition that mirrors Mexican charreria. Local cowboys don sombreros and bandanas in typical Northern Mexicano style. And those cowboys answer to paniolos -- not far from the Spanish term used for the nearly three-century long period that saw galleons from Manila or Acapulco pass or possibly more on Hawaii's coasts.
"Before the evangelization of the Islands, architecture was nearly null and void. Some acropolis remains. Forts such as Kawaihae, totemic tombs and temple-type buildings, and a great wealth of palisades and floors richly decorated with dirt, stone and ephemeral flowers still sample the naturalistic life practiced by their inhabitants", explains Ezquerra. "Therefore, the Fairmont Kea Lani Wailea hotel retains strong and quite valid Hawaiian antecedents from the era of the Monarchy, the period predating American influence".