Thursday, March 24, 2011

Evolution of the "Hawaiian Style" Roof

There are plenty of elements in Polynesian Pop culture that can trace their roots back to a single individual. For example, Ernest Bueamont Gantt (aka Don the Beachcomber) was responsible for creating the tropical cocktail as we know it today, or Les Baxter is credited with creating the 'exotic' sound in music. Tiki architecture is no different, one man set the tone very early on and it became accepted as the gold standard for all tropical design.

Charles W. Dickey (1871-1942) was born in Hawaii on the island of Maui. He spent his childhood in Hawaii, but left to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to earn a degree in architecture. He then spent 20 years practicing as an architect in Oakland, California before returning to Honolulu.

When he returned to Hawaii, he was dismayed with the predominant design style of the time (colonial) and set out to create a unique "Hawaiian" style. He accomplished that when he created the 'Dickey Roof', inspired by Kamehameha V's grass beach house in Waikiki.

Kamehameha V's beach hut

The Dickey Roof is a double pitch roof, with the top portion of the roof at a steeper angle than the lower portion of the roof. While simple in it's design, it quickly became the standard in Hawaiian architecture.

The first Dickey Roof was designed and constructed in 1926 on Charles' personal residence in Waikiki.

Tiki Architecture can trace it's roots back to this single house in Waikiki.

In 1926, he received a commission to design the Bungalow Cottages at the the Halekulani Hotel on Waikiki Beach and he used his Dickey roof design on all of the structures.

Halekulani Bungalows built in 1926

In 1931, he was commissioned again by the Halekulani Hotel to design the main building, and he used his Dickey Roof design.

Halekulani Hotel Main Building 1953

By the mid 1930's Dickey Roofs were being used all over the Hawaiian Islands, and by the mid to late 1940's, that style had become the sterotype for tropical buildings.

Dickey Roofs at the Breakers Hotel on Waikiki Beach

Breakers Hotel, Waikiki Beach

Mid Century Modern Polynesia at the Princess Kaiulani Hotel, 1957

When Charles Dickey died in 1942, Polynesian Pop Culture had not taken hold on the mainland of the United States yet, in fact, it would be another 15 years befeore we would hit the heyday of tiki culture. However, once Polynesian Pop culture did take hold, Hawaiian architecture (along with other South Seas designs) was manipulted and contorted into the fantasy escapism we love today.

Some examples of the Dickey Roof were not that extreme....

The Aloha Inn Motel in Altamont, IL

Then the design became a little more exagerated...

The Polynesian Resort at Walt Disney World, Orlando, FL

The Castaways Casino and Coffe Shop, Las Vegas, NV

....and then even more detals were added....

Ports 'O Call Restaurant, San Pedro, CA

Detail of photo above showing the extended roof beams and angled supports anchored in the lagoon. Note the tiki profile cut into the end of the support beams (a similar profile design was also used at the Kapu Tiki apartments in Pico Rivera, CA).

...and then the style was taken to extremes, squashed and streched into these beautiful examples of tiki design.

Trader Mort's in Point Loma, CA

Traders Inn, Ormond Beach, FL

So next time you find an old picture or postcard of a tiki restaurant or hotel at a garage sale, take a quick peek at the roof, I bet you will see C.W. Dickey's design hiding in there.


  1. Wow! One of my favorite posts yet! Do you have a pic of Kamehameha V's grass beach house for comparison?

  2. The roof designs of Hawaiian architecture have a touch of the Japanese pagodas yet they also have a distinctive Polynesian style with the steep angles that flow downwards. The designs are cool. :-)

  3. Thank you for this post. I am doing a paper on the evolution of roofing architecture and its effects on commercial roofing companies in Hawaii. This is a great jumping off point for me. I appreciate the information.

  4. I really appreciate you have shred this blog. My attention caught by this blog because I want to see what roofs look like if it is a hawaii inspired. my husbdan is now talking with the Memphis roofing company we hired as a supplier of the material we are using for the roof of our home. I hope they have the best designs.

  5. thanx, but very little about pitched roof design, check here

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