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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 30, 2002

Suitable by design

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer

Jurors said the Moloka'i project was a "highly visible image of determination and unification for Hawai'i's indigenous people."

Photos courtesy of the American Institute of Architects Honolulu Chapter

A community center on Moloka'i. A restored home in Manoa. Apartments for the elderly in Kane'ohe. A police station in Kapolei. Public housing in Kalihi. A Diamond Head renovation.

What do they have in common? Not much, except that they've been designed especially well to fit into their communities.

That, says architect Jim Freeman, is why all were honored last week with awards from the American Institute of Architects Honolulu Chapter, which each year picks the best new buildings in the state.

For years, architects and others in the design community have struggled to identify a "Hawaiian sense of place" in local buildings. Now, it turns out, there might not be such a place — or at least not just one.

"What I see in all these projects is how well they fit their own place," said Freeman, AIA-Honolulu president. "They work because they don't try to be everything at once. They work because they are right for their location."

The Hawaiian-style design of the Moloka'i project suits the island, which has the largest percentage of native Hawaiians. Meanwhile, the Manoa home, designed to capture the best features of an older, established neighborhood, would not have won an award in Kapolei. The Kapolei police station wouldn't look right in Kailua. The senior center was honored, in part, because its design was just right for its Kane'ohe setting.

"Too often, we design buildings that look like they could have been built anywhere," Freeman said. Often that means anywhere in the world, but sometimes it means anywhere in Hawai'i, which might be just as bad.

"The architects here aren't trying to beat their chests and make the buildings into something they're not," he said.

In other words, they stand out because they don't. Instead, they blend in with their neighborhoods, their places.

The Kulana 'Oiwi Multi-Service Center on Moloka'i was modeled after a kulana kauhale, or Hawaiian village. Builders used indigenous forms and building materials like lava field stone, elongated roof ridges and rough-wood finishes to create the right feel.

The building, used by a collective of Native Hawaiian service agencies, is reminiscent of the Hawaiian Studies Center complex on the University of Hawai'i-Manoa complex; both were designed by the firm of Kauahikaua and Chun.

The Kapolei Police Station received an award for its sense of place.
"It's a highly visible image of determination and unification for Hawai'i's indigenous people," one juror said.

In Kane'ohe, senior residences were built around a centrally landscaped courtyard, which allowed for natural ventilation, provided an activity area for residents, and made maximum use of a narrow building site. The center is right on Kamehameha Highway but is so well situated and designed that its four-story facade can easily be missed by anyone driving through the neighborhood of modest single-family homes.

"You don't have the same kind of spider in Kaka'ako as you do in Kane'ohe, so you shouldn't have the same kind of homes either," said Owen Chock, a retired founder of the architectural firm Design Partners and a juror in this year's competition.

Other jurors praised the Kane'ohe project as "habitation that fits well into its Hawaiian setting and offers its residents a place of pride."

In Manoa, architect Nancy Peacock helped the owners modernize a 75-year-old home but still retained the 1920s board-and-batten style of the neighborhood on the street side of the property and built around a 100-year-old monkey pod tree.

"Residential architecture, in particular, needs to have an overall theme that is refined for a specific location and then for the specific individual who uses it," said Chock.

"There's global architecture, there's regional architecture and then there's micro-architecture that responds to a specific locale. That's what this home did."

The project was the only one in the competition this year to receive an award of excellence, the AIA's highest honor. It also received the chapter's first-ever prize for sustainable architecture, a movement that emphasizes reuse and recyclability in favor of consumption and disposability.

Peacock emphasized natural lighting and ventilation, included a rain catchment system for irrigation water, and used a grass-crete combination in the parking area to help keep the home cool.

"There are places within the Hawaiian sense of place," Peacock said. "You try to identify the place and design for that."

Often, that means studying a building site's microclimate.

"First, you look at the big weather patterns — wind, rain and sun — and try to account for them. Then you consider the neighborhood," she said. Often those factors will determine the technology and materials used in a project.

The police station in Kapolei, designed by Architects of Hawai'i, has nothing in common with the Manoa residence except that it's right for the neighborhood. Instead of a one-bedroom home, the station has 40 jail cells for adults. Instead of a grass-crete driveway, there are 285 asphalt parking stalls. Instead of room for collectibles, there are offices for the narcotics-vice division.

"The city of Kapolei has a very particular look that it's going after with strict guidelines. This project meets those perfectly," Freeman said.

Arthur Kimbal Thompson, who last year won an award for his design of several park pavilions in Kailua, was a return winner this year with a completely different project. Thompson's renovation of a Diamond Head home was as different as could be from the park structures but worked in its special locale, an area of spectacular, high-end homes.

Thompson's challenge from his clients was "to provide a home naturally responsive to the sunlight, moonlight and natural ventilation, yet capable of sealing for complete interior climate control." The result is a unique indoor-outdoor blend that fits well in a cliffside dwelling of million-dollar homes.

"It's a great example that proves high-end housing doesn't have be a hermetically sealed box," Freeman said.

"Like all the other winners, it has a value in the design that contributes to both the immediate area and the larger community."

• • •

Award winners

Several architects received honors from the American Institute of Architects Honolulu Chapter.

Award of Excellence

  • Manoa residence, Nancy Peacock

Awards of Merit

  • Hawaiian Airlines Premier Club Lounge, Ferraro Choi and Associates
  • Kalihi Valley Homes renovations, Roy H. Nihei, Group 70 International
  • Kamehameha Schools office renovations, Ferraro Choi and Associates
  • Senior residence at Kane'ohe, Robert A. Luersen
  • Kulana 'Oiwi Multi-Service Center, Daniel Chun, Kauahikaua & Chun
  • Manana Community Park & Youth Center, Lorrin Matsunaga and Rodney Hirata, Urban Works Inc.
  • Satake residence, Arthur Kimbal Thompson

Members' Choice Award

  • Kapolei Police Station, Architects Hawai'i Ltd.

Sustainability Award of Excellence

  • Manoa residence

Mayor's Choice Award

  • Kalihi Valley Homes renovations