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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 Nanea Clubhouse, on the Big Island, emulates volcanic forms instead of Dickey roofs.

Photo: Courtesy of Mutual Publishing

Opportunity, as it turned out. Hawaii had no architecture school of its own at the time, and no new buildings had been allowed during the war years. There was a huge, pent-up demand for every type of building imaginable and architects who moved to the Islands had plenty of work. Haines became a partner in the firm, and, by 1976, the firm had become the biggest in the Islands, changing its name to Architects Hawaii. 

By its nature as a field guide to existing buildings, Architecture in Hawaii does not include once-prominent buildings that have since been torn down. But knowing Haines’ penchant for history, we asked if there were any landmark Honolulu buildings he missed. “The [1921] Theo H. Davies Building. It was built practically over the sidewalk, so you had a nice covered walkway around the building,” he says.

Eco-friendly technologies now also drive design in Hawaii, as seen in the NELHA Hawaii Gateway Energy Center, roofed with photovoltaic panels.

The dramatic interior of the Spark Matsunaga VA hospital.

Photos: Courtesy of Mutual Publishing

Of the buildings that stand today, which are the ones that, a hundred years from now, Historic Hawaii Foundation would most want to save as architecturally significant? Haines chuckles at the thought, but considers it. “The building we’re in right now,” he says. The Ossipoff-designed Pacific Club. “Vladimir Ossipoff’s work is probably the most significant of all the work that’s been done in Hawaii. [Preserving that] would be of major importance.”

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would disagree with that assessment. A new book and exhibit at the Honolulu Academy of Arts earlier this year, devoted to Ossipoff’s life and work, cemented his legacy as Hawaii’s answer to Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s enough to make one wonder if it’s even possible anymore for an architect to break out in quite the same way, to become that kind of legend.

“Oh, sure!” says Haines. “You just have to have the personality. Ossipoff was very unusual, a combination of an excellent architect and a dominant personality. In the early days, I designed a lot of individual residences and my philosophy was that the result should be a combination of the enthusiams and thoughts of the clients as well as of the architect. For me, the goal was that kind of compromise. But people found Ossipoff to be domineering. If you went to him, for example, and said ‘We like to eat in the kitchen so we don’t need a dining room,’ he might say, ‘What? You should change your lifestyle!’ As a result, he had less pressure from the client designwise to do something other than what he wanted to do.

“There could be another Ossipoff right now. Francis Oda may be the closest we have, a wonderful combination of design talent and personality.”

Oda, with Group 70 International, designed the Nanea Clubhouse, one of the structures that can be found in the new edition of Architecture in Hawaii. Built on a Big Island lava field, the clubhouse shows how Hawaii architecture can draw inspiration from the landscape itself, and not from historic building styles.

Haines, through projects such as this book, or the walking tours, his work with historic preservation, is generous with praise for architects who are also competitors. There’s something fraternal about his connection to his peers and this seemed to snap into focus for us as a kind of sympathy when he said, “Every building has a negative effect of some kind.”

Every building has a trade-off, a flaw; something the budget, the site, the materials, the client or the design just couldn’t achieve. That might be an interesting perspective to take as you thumb through the new edition, to see the parade of landmark buildings not as a survey of masterpieces, but as a series of rough drafts in a story that never ends.   

Architecture Walking Tours

Architect Frank Haines co-founded the AIA Honolulu walking tours 50 years ago, and still volunteers to give the tour along with other expert guides. “We started it for two reasons,” says Haines. “One, we wanted the public to be more aware of architecture. And two, the admission we charge raises money so the AIA can give scholarships and bring in guest lecturers for architecture students.”

The walking tour, will take you from Iolani Palace to Hawaii Theatre, explaining more than a dozen buildings along the way. Saturday mornings, 9 to 11:30 a.m. Tours begin at the AIA Honolulu office in the historic Stangenwald Building, 119 Merchant Street, Suite 402. Reservations required, $10 per person, four-person minimum on tour. (808) 628-7243, www.aiahonolulu.org


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Honolulu Magazine August 2019
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