Who can name the most significant buildings in Hawaii? Architect Frank Haines, for one, editor of a book that does just that. This month, we interviewed Haines about the book, the direction architecture in Hawaii has taken lately and more.
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The new edition includes such projects as the Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii, the Hawaii Convention Center, Hanalei Elementary’s library and cafeteria, Kalihi Valley Homes, the Spark Matsunaga VA Medical and Regional Office Center Kapolei Hale, the Nanea Clubhouse and more. All of them show the results of a change in Hawaii architecture that began with the early ’90s discussion about “a Hawaiian sense of place.”
“There’s been a healthy attempt to make the buildings look more like they had an appropriateness for Hawaii,” says Haines. “Before, you just designed for a need, which then dictated a look. Now we’re more aware of the fact that these buildings are around for a long time. You don’t want something like the First Hawaiian Bank building which could be in Atlanta or wherever.”
(The First Hawaiian tower, like the Hawaii Convention Center, is one of those lightning rods for architectural controversy. To Haines, the FHB tower’s best contribution to downtown is the way it sits on its block, surrounded by open, public space. “When I take people on the walking tours, I tell them that no downtown our size is more pedestrian friendly because you have open spaces quite a ways mauka. There’s almost an acre of open space in Tamarind Square and the [FHB tower] extends that mix of open spaces and buildings,” says Haines.)
On the other hand, the sensitivity about Hawaii appropriateness didn’t debut in the 1990s. Haines recalls battling the federal government in the late 1970s over the design of the Prince Kuhio Federal Building. “The General Services Administration only wanted a typical, tall office tower,” he says. But he and the building’s designing architect, Joseph Farrell, showed them something low-rise, with an open-air interior courtyard and a garden terrace, something that would be a better neighbor in Honolulu’s civic center. “We had to convince them that this would be much more appropriate for Hawaii.” Haines and Farrell succeeded and, while the Federal Building may not strike one as the friendliest building along Ala Moana Boulevard, it’s warmer than a by-the-book international-style tower would’ve been.
Haines has seen firsthand the evolution of architecture in Hawaii since World War II, when the Princeton graduate came through the Islands while serving as a gunnery officer aboard a destroyer escort, the USS Acree. “We did antisubmarine patrols escorting convoys zig-zagging across the Pacific,” he says, “So we didn’t have a lot of excitement.” When the Acree was in Pearl Harbor, Haines would stay with a cousin who had a house in Makiki Heights, where he got a sense of what it would be like to live in Hawaii. After the war, he got his master’s in architecture from MIT, and moved to the Islands for good in 1948.
“Through family connectionswas offered a job by Cy Lemmon. I’ll never forget, I came here on a Friday in November 1948. The first thing I did on Saturday morning was to go check where I was going to work. I went to the address, 25 Saratoga Road, expecting an office building of some kind. But there was this little Hawaiian-style single-family home and a little sign, Cyril W. Lemmon, Architect. He had taken the garage and converted it into an office. I thought, What the hell have I gotten into?”