Ossipoff's noble war on ugliness
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In December 1964, Vladimir Ossipoff declared war on ugliness.
As newly elected president of the Hawai'i chapter of the American Institute of Architects, he proclaimed, "We will use all the resources at our disposal to make the people of Hawai'i and particularly those in our urban areas, more aware of the part every individual and segment of our community can play in making this a more beautiful place to live and work."
Two years later, when his colleague, Ernest Hara, took over as president of the group, he too vowed to wage war on public ugliness.
They could hardly claim victory, but their intentions were noble and their efforts certainly not in vain.
The Honolulu Academy of Arts is featuring an exhibit on Ossipoff's body of work entitled "Hawaiian Modern" through Jan. 27. In addition to photos, drawings, video and models of his work, the show offers insight into his aesthetic. Ossipoff, it seems, was never shy about giving his opinion on Hawai'i architecture and wouldn't hesitate to call an ugly building an ugly building. In his own designs, he emphasized tailoring the structure to its natural surroundings.
Conversely, he thought ignoring the building's environment was the hallmark of bad design.
In an interview with The Advertiser in the early 1960s, Ossipoff declared, "Air conditioning is the root of all evil."
He explained: "In the past, air conditioning meant use of the trade winds. Today, it means using a mechanical gadget. This change has led to a tendency to ignore natural conditions. It has made for uniformity in architecture. A building in Panama turns out the same as one in Alaska when architects begin ignoring the natural climate."
Ossipoff was troubled by housing developments that all looked alike. In his own work, though he is known for grand-scale designs in elegant homes and large buildings, he also drew the plans for many simpler family homes in Hawai'i.
"High land values here dictate conformity to a degree," he said. "The lack of land hampers open-type construction. Tract homes are a sad development. They go against nature. Tract developments remove everything. It's a crime what's happening and it could be prevented.
"In the 1959-60 Sunset Western Home Awards competition," of which he was a member, "the jury was disappointed at the Hawai'i entries because they reflected no individuality. They looked the same as those from the West Coast. The jury felt that previous Hawai'i entries had more regional character."
To walk through the Academy of Arts' wonderful exhibit, you can't help but marvel at Ossipoff's idealism that he made real. One also can't help but imagine what he would say about the housing developments coming up today.
Well, we do know what he'd say. He already said it more than 40 years ago.
Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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