Loft Life in Honolulu

A new breed of luxury apartment arrives in Honolulu.


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Reusing the shell of a 1950s era office building let the architect design spaces with high ceilings and huge windows.

Photos: Olivier Koning


Exposed concrete walls contrast with high-end finishes to give these lofts an industrial chic.

Photo by: Olivier Koning

After the better part of a decade in design and construction, one of Honolulu’s most interesting urban projects is finally reaching completion. The developers of the Vanguard Lofts, at 720 Kapiolani Blvd., stripped the guts out of an aging, low-rise commercial building and turned it into a complex of chic, modern loft apartments.

The building started in 1907 as the Von Hamm-Young Building, but most kamaaina will remember it in its post-1950s incarnation as the old National Cash Register Building, with a new, Vladimir-Ossipoff-designed, five-story addition.

Chris Deuchar, president of U.S. Pacific Development and partner at Cooke Clayton, two development firms responsible for the venture, says that, when his firm originally bought the property in 2004, the plan was to create an office building, with a parking structure alongside it. When they started the renovation process, though, they discovered asbestos throughout the building that needed to be removed. “In the course of remediation, we had to take out a lot of the drop ceilings,” Deuchar says. “Once we cleared it all out and got to see the volume inside, we thought, wow, this would make a pretty neat loft.”

“We did a lot of noodling, and, once we realized structurally that we could do it, the architects did a great job of figuring out how it would all piece together. It turned into something unique.”

Brent Tokita, project architect with Richard Matsunaga and Associates, oversaw the job, and says it was a challenge to work within the confines of the existing building. “I think it was well worth it, though,” he says. “We should have more of these kinds of projects in town. There’s a lot of building stock sitting out there that could be reused. Saving the embodied energy that’s within the structure itself is going to greatly outweigh the benefits of a new building, even one built to LEED standards.”


Photos by: Olivier Koning

Tokita says the original shell of the building was constructed like a bomb shelter. “They don’t build them like they used to,” he says. He decided that, instead of trying to cover up and sanitize the rough, industrial feel of the place, he would make the most of it. “We realized we had a shell that was very interesting and full of character. We didn’t want to break that up and start putting in cookie-cutter elements. You accept the restrictions, and you turn them into features.”


 

Unfinished concrete wall surfaces became something to flaunt, not hide. Water lines and duct work were left out in the open, both in the units and in the public hallways, to accentuate the functionality and rawness of a loft environment. The original elevator shaft? Turned into walk-in-closet space.

“We discovered so many interesting details as we were stripping everything back,” Tokita says. “You see formwork dovetails that they had to pull out, and we’re turning them into features, like shelves.”

Deuchar says the new direction was unexpected, but welcome. “When we first started designing this, we were shooting for something a little more Island-esqe, if you will,” he says. “After we really got into the loft concept, and started looking at the architecture and the industrial area around us, we decided to embrace that instead of trying to get away from it. That’s driven a lot of the design since then.”
  

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