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Up and Coming Architecture Firm: Collaborative Studio

A young Honolulu architecture firm is winning awards and solving problems.


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Photos by Collaborative Studio

The Kauhale Pilot Project was meant to offer multifamily, multigenerational Hawaiian homestead housing. Shown here, Collaborative Studio’s proposal for a Kauhale kit home, to be developed with support from Big Island lumber yards.

Everything in the home is stripped down and lean, using as little drywall or paint as possible. That means no ceiling panels hang from the ceiling trusses, which are exposed for an open, bright, airy ceiling. It means unpainted roof sheathing of oriented-strand board (OSB), something normally never meant to be seen.

The two-bedroom, two-bath home is arranged as a series of open spaces and enclosed rooms down the northern length of the structure, and a long hall down the southern side. The exterior wall of the hallway comprises mainly floor-to-ceiling jalousie windows. This may look a bit retro, but has a real function. “We considered the hallway to be an environmental buffer zone on the south side of the house,” says Ho Schar. “When the weather is nice, you can open all those windows. Clerestory windows in the ceiling catch any breezes coming over the house. It’s actually very comfortable even without a/c, there are good cross-breezes in every room.”

The hallway is also home to some nearly invisible built-in storage, so the owners don’t have to clutter the space with furniture. Otherwise featureless wall panels, for example, open to reveal shoe racks and storage spaces. 

A Kauhale Pilot Project proposal known as “the shed” investigated the use of shipping containers for storage within a wood-framed residence with second-floor lofts.



In all, the home is reminiscent of a kind of crisply tailored, modest modernism found in, say, mid-century Honolulu suburbs designed by Ernie Hara in Pacific Palisades. Just before double-wall construction, drywall and central air hit the suburbs in the 1970s, many new homes, from Waipahu to Kāhala, feaured this sort of spare, low-key, nakedly structural look. Then, and now, a driver of the look was cost—it has always been expensive to build a home in Hawai‘i, and this is the look one gets with off-the-shelf materials in a mild climate. In the Ariyoshi residence, Collaborative Studio has rediscovered this aesthetic, while updating it with 21st-century values for sustainability.

Living in the home has been a joy, says owner Mark Ariyoshi. The very real initial satisfaction of reusing so much material in an “ethic of building it the right way” has since been joined by the day-to-day pleasures of being there. “The space is great to be in, it’s very light and airy.”

Both the owners and the architects hope the house will serve as an example of what can be done on a small budget. Thinking like this—by both client and architects—may be a way for the larger architectural community to reconnect with the general public, as the prospect of being able to hire an architect for a custom home has become something of which only the wealthiest people dream. “Not a lot of people with this budget would think of hiring an architect; they’d opt for a kit home or go straight to a contractor,” says Ho Schar. “But there’s value to hiring an architect even with a low budget, not just in aesthetics but in the performance of the building and in meeting a budget, in the attitude toward how you actually build something.”

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Honolulu Magazine November 2017
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