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An Off the Wall Original

The outdoor area at the Kula Lodge Garden Terrace restaurant on the island of Maui in Hawaii was designed and built by John August and his crew. It includes nine dining areas in gazebo settings. The walls of the gazebo bases are three layers. The inner wall is built of site-cast cellular concrete blocks. The outer wall is basalt stones and reclaimed bricks set with 1/2-inch joints of cement mortar. In between them, August installed #4 rebar through holes drilled into the bedrock and secured them with epoxy. Concrete was then poured into this cavity. August designed both the tables and the gazebos and had them shop fabricated.

A centerpiece at the restaurant is the wood burning outdoor pizza oven. To build it, August assembled the oven itself from a precast concrete kit, which came from France. Next he installed fiberglass batting, a layer of cinder, a reinforced concrete ceiling and then the stone and brick veneer. On either side of the oven door are recessed lights for nighttime use.

For the façade of the pizza oven, August took clinker bricks and sawed them into 1/2-inch slices and book matched the pieces from the center outward. Before setting, he cracked each piece to create a mosaic type effect.

The foundation of individual creativity may be a mystery but the results of it can be clear, as can the effects that these results bring about: inspiration, joy, comfort, amusement and more.

The source of John August's creative hardscape works can be traced to his childhood when after helping his father build a brick patio in their backyard, he came up with the idea of making pavers that interlock. This revelation however, did not mean that his career path was set in stone.

Innovative Groundwork
In his early twenties, August found himself at work as a finish carpenter on what he describes as a "real interesting house" in Southern California. The results caught the attention of a renowned contractor who hired August to remodel a celebrity's guesthouse in Malibu. As he recalls, that assignment was a leap of faith.

"I had virtually no experience in construction," he admits. "I had winged it on the first job." Put in charge of the project, with a 30-day timeframe, he took his borrowed tools and a newly bought book on modern carpentry and got to work.

"I stayed up at night drawing up plans for builders on things that I had never done before," August states.

Putting in 12 hour days, seven days a week with up to 20 people helping out, he got the project done and impressed the contractor and the homeowner.

When it came time to remodel the main house on the property, August was tasked with building a brick veranda that would run several hundred feet. His lack of experience again failed to be a barrier. And his creative nature led him to a new revelation: using bricks as a fluid medium.

"I essentially created a paving pattern that could encompass three-dimensional curves without any dead ends so there were no lines butting into lines, bricks butting into bricks, so the curving lines could expand or contract smoothly," August says. (See following supplement)

More jobs for well-off and well-known clients followed, including an outdoor living area for a top comedian and the remodeling of three houses on a 120-acre ranch in the exclusive Carmel Valley near Monterey, Calif.

After taking time off to compete in triathlons, August moved to Maui, lured by the prospect of windsurfing. As people found out about his previous work exploits, he found himself back creating hardscapes.

August's originality was really allowed to stand out when he was asked to build an outdoor eating area at an existing restaurant in a remote location on the island. After evaluating the situation, he gave the owner of the the Kula Lodge Garden Terrace three options: build a wood deck that would be inexpensive and fast, build a combination of stone walls and a wood deck, or build the area with solid rock and brick and have something that will last forever. The owner opted for permanence.

The eventual plan called for nine dining areas built from brick and stone walls with concrete benches, wooden tables and gazebos.

August convinced the owner to let the crew dig down to bedrock for the foundation, then place the existing large stones to create the feeling of a natural rock formation.

All the steps for the project had a uniform six-inch rise and a 16-inch run. August incorporated nosing whether the units were brick or rock. All the bricks for the project came from a demolished building in Honolulu, and the basalt stones were gathered from a beach at Kaupo.

The benches are custom made from concrete. August designed the master and then built it with help in a friend's wood shop. He made the molds himself, and then cast & assembled the pieces. The casting material was 120 PCF cellular concrete for a 20 percent weight reduction over regular concrete.

For an outdoor entertainment center at a residence in Malibu, August created a dolphin mosaic on the fireplace's smoker stack by breaking up picture flagstone, then matching the black and gray lines to fit the dolphin's contours.

Not the Beaten Path
The rugged nature of the job site dictated that all work be done by hand.

"We couldn't get any equipment in there because it was a steep slope on either side of the restaurant," August says.

Picks and shovels and big crewmembers did the digging. To move the huge bedrocks, they used a large bar and took advantage of gravity by usually moving the rocks downhill and putting them into place to make the base of the walls as they went up.

In fact, everything was carted down. The restaurant, adjoining parking lot and incoming road were set above the jobsite so as materials were delivered, they were stored in the lot and brought down as needed by wheelbarrow.

On a typical day, August had a crew of two to six. Over the course of the project, he went through 20 people, most who quit because of the strenuous work.

"The last year I had two women working for me and they were great," he asserts.

The workers started at the bottom and moved upslope, building a series of walkways and retaining walls as they progressed.

The terrace pod walls were a minimum of 18 inches thick and up to 10 feet tall. Each one was built with three layers. First, an inner wall was constructed using site-cast, cellular concrete block.

The outer layer is made from basalt stones and reclaimed bricks set with 1/2 -inch joints of cement mortar.

The basalt was gathered at a beach in Kaupo, an area on the southeast side of Maui. A big Cat loader was used to pick them up and pile them into a nine-yard dump truck.

The bricks came from an old building that was torn down in Honolulu. August had them barged to Maui, where they were trucked via flatbed from the docks to the jobsite.

August rented a big drum concrete mixer and tumbled the bricks to give them a weathered look. He used a cam operated guillotine-type brick cutter to size them.

"There was probably a million bricks in there by the time I got done cutting," he maintains.

As the inner and outer walls were being built, corrugated tabs were mortared into the grout joints so that when concrete, the third layer, was poured in the resulting cavity, the two walls would bond to one and other mechanically.

At another private residence on Maui, August designed and installed this pond. At the bottom of the pond, he custom cut koi images out of hard ceramic tile using a ring saw and set them against variegated cobalt tile using the darker tiles around the koi to create the illusion they were floating. August ran a water feed from the bottom of the basin up through the back of the one-ton stone (top of picture) to let water trickle over the edge of the stone and back into the pond. (Photo - Curtis Paddock)

A water feature at the Kula Lodge Terrace restaurant forms a series of streams and waterfalls throughout three terrace levels without obstructing the seating and serving access.

Before that was done, steel rebar was placed in the cavity in holes drilled into the bedrock and then set with epoxy.

The walls were built in sections to ensure that everything was rock solid. Once completed, a pod was filled with solid compacted dirt and sand, then topped with reinforced concrete and veneered with brick. August crowned all of the pods slightly from the middle to the edge so that any water would drain off towards the outside.

The furniture modulus was actually designed prior to beginning the project because everything had to fit together in the end.

August worked on the bench master with a friend in the friend's wood shop. They figured out the contours, made a few prototypes and then built the master from epoxy-laminated redwood, sanded to a 600 grit finish, varnished, and polished.

After this, August made the two-part molds for each piece and then site-cast all the pieces for the benches.

Redwood from recycled wine vats was used to build the tables. Their construction is mortise & tenon joints in a craftsman style.

The gazebos were built from the same material in the same style. Round teak pegs hold the linked half-lapped rafter lintels solidly in place.

August and his crew built another kitchen underneath the restaurant once it was deemed that using a dumb waiter to deliver the food from the existing kitchen wouldn't work out.

"My idea was to make the outdoor restaurant an entire separate entity," he says.

Besides seating for 54 and the kitchen, the new entity has a barbeque area and a wood-burning pizza oven veneered with the same stones and bricks, and equipped with custom-fabricated, bi-fold steel doors.

The oven itself was assembled from a precast concrete kit, which came from France.

The intensive project took three years to complete. By August's calculations, he and his crew hand-placed over 450 tons of material, including 90 tons of steel. They also mixed, on site, over 70 yards of concrete.

Continuing Ingenuity
Following up on his childhood inspiration, August did invent a true interlocking paver. In fact, he designed and developed four of them. One is in the shape of a gecko, and one is in the shape of frog. (See following supplement)

He has been promoting them to the precaster industry for years without a lot of success, but one manufacturer, Central Arizona Block Company, was able to start producing Geckos en masse. August still feels that there is a market for them.

He also invented an interlocking terracing unit that is 40 pounds and designed for engineered mortarless retaining walls with a 15-degree setback.

August currently resides in Volcano, on the Big Island of Hawaii. His latest endeavor is building concrete houses, starting with his own. It is being constructed with an interlocking mortarless block that he invented and patented. The house will have a built-in catchment and built-in convective ventilation.

To proceed, August received a variance from the local building permit department to use the blocks and another variance to use basalt instead of steel for re-enforcement.

According to August, "The basalt bars are just 20 percent the weight of steel and have two times the tensile strength of steel, are non-corrosive, and resistant to either alkaline or acidic environments."

He believes use of basalt products will eventually replace all steel in reinforced concrete construction. And he plans to be at the forefront of these innovative building concepts.

"This is the direction I'm heading," he states, "total concept housing design." Never having settled for ordinary and predictable, August's originality endures. For all the passion his works present, he sums up his calling modestly.

"I always felt there was a place for art in construction."

More information about John August's work and products can be found at

Hardscape Highlights
Works by John August and others demonstrate that creativity and innovation are part and parcel to the industry.

This entry walkway at a residence on Maui, Hawaii, is made up of interlocking concrete pavers that were designed by August who then made 40 polyurethane molds and cast each piece. The pavers were sealed with a chemically reactive sealer, not just a surface coating. August installed a hidden concrete barrier on either side below the soil line. Black basalt fines were used instead of silica to give greater contrast. Called GeckoStones©, they are 2.5 inches thick, 16 inches long and 14 inches wide. They have been featured in four math textbooks in articles about tessellation. FrogRocks© are another example of his original work.
Photo: John August o GeckoStones are © by John August 1994 and 1998. FrogRocks are © by John August 1997. All rights reserved.

The front veranda at this residence in Malibu, Calif., was built using August's proprietary brick paving method that can encompass 3-D curves without any dead-end lines. Photo: John August

This granite millstone, estimated to weigh around 1,400 lbs, was installed by Natures Elite Landscaping of Meredith, N.H., using a boom truck and the help of local granite supplier, Swenson's Granite, at a residence in Alton, N.H., to help meet the homeowners' desire to have a circular theme to their driveway. The pavers used are from Belgard.

Existing Pennsylvania fieldstone boulders and reclaimed eight-inch by eight-inch white oak posts were used as building elements for a tree house at this rustic residence in Lafayette Hill, Pa. The landscape company, ThinkGreen LLC, terminated some of the posts on top of boulder accent footings.

Porous Pave is a pour in place pavement material using stone, recycled rubber and a binder material. LEED qualified, it is available in several colors for trails, sidewalks, driveways, patios, pool surrounds and more. Its 29 percent void space allows over 6,200 gallons of water per hour, per foot to flow through.

The dive rock at this pool in Newark, Del., started out as a rectangular piece of granite. Evergreen Hardscaping used a diamond chain saw and a sledge hammer to carve it and create the step and final shape while keeping it natural looking. The coping and pool deck are a mix of Pennsylvania antique flagstone and Pennsylvania bluestone from Rotunno Stone Yard.

Smalls Landscaping cemented six-foot-tall by three- to four-foot-wide pieces of flagstone into the ground to hide the air conditioners, generator and other utilities at this home in Michigan City, Ind. They left an opening to allow for maintenance.

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October 20, 2019, 5:42 pm PDT

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