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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 6, 2001

The art of the new

 •  See an interactive presentation of the new Henry R. Luce Pavilion Complex at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. Flash player is required.

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer

Architect John Hara admits that designing a modern wing for what may be Hawai'i's best-loved building was a little daunting.

Architect John Hara takes a look at the art works to be displayed in the new gallery at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. He was the driving force behind giving the academy a modern edge while retaining its appeal.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

But copying the existing Honolulu Academy of Arts was never an option when Hara received the commission for the $28 million Henry Luce Pavilion Complex, which officially opens to the public next Sunday. Instead, he had to come up with a 21st-century building that captured the feel of the original 1927 design.

"It would have been a mistake to replicate the old building," Hara said. "That architecture would not have met the needs of the new art world."

Instead, Hara designed a complex that borrows from, and blends with, the existing academy, which is regularly hailed as the state's finest example of kama'aina-style architecture for its graceful courtyards, long arcades and Hawaiian sense of place.

The addition, mostly built on a former parking lot, includes nearly 8,000 square feet of air-conditioned gallery space, an expanded Garden Cafe and gift shop, and more than 8,000 square feet of new courtyard and arcades that link the old and new parts of the complex. The first floor of the Luce gallery is for traveling exhibits, while the second floor will be a permanent home for the academy's large collection of Hawai'i art. In all, the expansion adds 26,000 square feet to the existing museum. The complex was financed in part by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation and is named for publishing magnate Henry R. Luce, whose widow, Clare Boothe Luce, lived in Hawai'i for the last 14 years of her life and was a generous friend to the Academy.

The addition brings the academy into the 21st century of the art world, allowing many new kinds of exhibits and redefining the way the museum is used, said Academy of Arts director George Ellis.

"We think this gives Honolulu a vibrant new cultural center," Ellis said. "It allows us to create entirely new kinds of experiences here."

Ellis sees the museum playing host to many new events, and he envisions a new kind of visitor who goes out to shop, eat dinner, visit the galleries and see a movie, all in one stop at the academy.

The enclosed, air-conditioned, artificially-lit nature of the new gallery space runs counter to the traditional feel of the rest of the building, but it was necessary, Ellis said.

"Part of the old kama'aina image appeal just doesn't fit with the requirements of the art world today," he said. "We've got priceless treasures that need to be protected from the damaging effects of natural light and Hawai'i's tropical weather. In the old days, we didn't need to worry about the lack of air conditioning or too much natural light. That's no longer possible."

When the Academy of Arts opened nearly 75 years ago, the damaging effects of such natural elements were less known and of less concern than today.

Hara's assignment was to accommodate the new technological needs without losing the feel of the beloved old academy, which was designed by New York architect Bertram Goodhue and completed by Hardie Phillips. For decades, the academy's simple lines, powerful indoor-outdoor connections and striking tiled roofs have been honored and imitated by many other architects around the state.

Architect John Hara lounges on the long outdoor stairway along the new wing at the Academy of Arts.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Hara accomplished his goal by creating a vibrant new courtyard, extending existing lines of access and re-using many of the motifs and features found elsewhere in the academy, including the slope and tile of existing roofs, windows and arcades, large columns, wood details, granite flooring, extensive landscaping and the curve of the simple, off-white walls.

He also accommodated such improvements as modern lighting systems, sprinklers, remote video broadcast capabilities and complete access for the disabled.

While he worried a little about offending the lovers of the old museum, Hara wasn't entirely new to the challenge. He already had designed a 1975 wing for the academy, encompassing a gallery for modern art, administrative offices and a small theater.

"That was a relatively modest addition," he said. "This was a more sophisticated kind of deal, but we always anticipated that it would happen."

The most striking part of the new project may be the long outdoor stairway that fills the entire courtyard wall of the new gallery and serves as primary access from one floor to another. Visitors climbing the stairway will encounter never-before-seen views of the old academy buildings, especially its varied tiled rooflines.

Open house set for new complex

• Henry Luce Pavilion Complex open house

• Noon-5 p.m. May 13

• Ground-floor gallery: "Na Maka Hou: New Visions," an exhibition of contemporary works by artists of Native Hawaiian descent. More than 100 works by 57 artists working in carved wood, sculpture, painting, ceramics, tapa, featherwork and other media. Runs through June 17.

• Second-floor gallery: "Hawai'i and its People," a permanent installation of the Academy's historic and contemporary HawaiÎi-based collection of paintings, graphic arts, decorative arts and sculpture; and "Pupu 'O Ni'ihau," an exhibit that pays tribute to the famous shells and leimakers of Ni'ihau. It runs through Sept. 30.

• In Gallery 3, on the front lawn and along academy courtyards: "Recent Ceramic Sculptures and Drawings by June Kaneko," a Japanese artist known for his brightly colored and boldly patterned monumental ceramic works. Runs through July 22.

• Free to Hawai'i residents.

• 532-8701

Combined with the cafe, more outdoor seating, a 60-foot water feature and new outdoor sculpture, the stairway is meant to fill the courtyard with people and activity. The new area extends the academy's feel as a series of self-contained rooms connected by outdoor walkways, the best part of the existing building. Various openings in building walls — doors, arches, windows and decorative cuts — all serve to help visually connect the old and new parts of the building, Hara said.

One of the major challenges for Hara was saving three 70-year-old trees — a mango, monkeypod and false wiliwili..

"Special design consideration and substantial cost was expended in order to save these existing trees as the focal point for the Luce Pavilion Complex," said landscape architect Julie Kimura Walters. "They literally built the new pavilion around the trees."

"I got the message that the trees were very important to the staff and visitors," Hara said. "It's a common mango tree but very special to those who know it."

Walters also designed several smaller gardens, which include Australian tree ferns, small pink anthuriums, golden striped bamboo, monstera, blue ginger, spathiphyllum and fragrant gardenia borders.

She said she tried to use plants that date back to Hawai'i's early kama'aina homes, including the one owned by Anna Rice Cooke. Cooke founded the museum on its Beretania Street site across from Thomas Square park where her own house once sat.

Ellis and employees are particularly excited about one part of the new wing that most visitors will never see: the underground "back-of-the-house" loading and storage area.

For decades, museum workers have loaded and unloaded visiting and permanent pieces on an open-air dock, under a blue tarp, often in rainy and windy conditions. The new access gives them a protected area with hydrolic power to move artwork, which can weigh several tons, in and out of the academy, Ellis said.

"We've finally got a loading area that works as it should, rather than just relying on very dedicated people all these years," Ellis said.

The academy conceived the idea of building the wing on the site of a former employee parking area on Kina'u and Victoria streets several years ago during an economic recession that seemed to dim chances for success.

"Our Mainland consultants surveyed the town and said we'd be lucky to raise $20 million," said Sam Cooke, the academy's board chairman. "We knew we were going to need more than that do things properly."

Eventually, the academy raised $28 million in private donations, including $5 million from the Christensen Family Fund and $3 million from the Luce Foundation, Cooke said. The academy also used money from its highly successful Egyptian show several years ago to pay for the development, he said.

Ultimately, acceptance of the new building will be judged by how the public uses it. Hara and Ellis are confident people will find new ways to enjoy the art academy experience while still regarding it as Hawai'i's best-loved building.

"Absolutely," Ellis said. "It works. There hasn't been one negative comment yet. The old feeling is still there."