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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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A six-classroom complex Collaborative Studio designed for LĀna‘i High and Elementary School opens in spring 2013. It’s designed for as much passive cooling and daylight as possible.

A metal prefab structure for the Kauhale Pilot Project aimed for durability and affordability in an agricultural context.

Lessons learned on this house came in handy for the next Collaborative Studio commission, a six-classroom complex for Lāna‘i High and Elementary School. For this, even the DOE has innovated—the Lāna‘i project was the first in which it set a price, then solicited proposals, then chose the firm that added the most value to the project. This is an encouraging reversal of the decades-old practice of simply selecting the lowest bidder, which yielded a generation of graceless cinder-block campuses statewide.

At this point, the firm was three people, Ho Schar, Irvine and Hamada, all alumni from another Honolulu firm, Urban Works. “The DOE gives you a two-inch stack of criteria to follow and, in this case, a $6 million budget,” expains Ho Schar. “Then you have two months to come up with a proposal. The space-making is all up to the designers.”

“It’s a good way to have nicely designed schools, because the project is based on the users,” adds Hamada. “A big part of the criteria are the aesthetics.”

The campus opens in spring 2013. Overall, the project shows the same environmental sensitivity as the Ariyoshi residence, while picking up design cues from the existing campus to make it work in its context.

Then there’s the Department of Hawaiian Homeland’s Kauhale Pilot Project, which sought ways to offer innovative multifamily and multigeneration Hawaiian homestead housing. They got the commission through the state’s standard RFQ, but didn’t stop developing their proposals just because they got the commission. Instead, they thought the project would benefit from still more brainstorming, so they organized collaboration with the DHHL and the UH Mānoa School of Architecture. “This led to a schoolwide charrette which the UH synced with a visit by members of Architecture for Humanity. The project was later put on hold, but it had a really engaging start,” says Ho Schar.

While the project may be on hold, Ho Schar’s and Hamada’s work for it was one of their winning projects this year. The awards felt, says Ho Schar, “Like someone told us, ‘Good job, don’t give up.’ The mayor’s award was completely unexpected, since it usually recognizes public work. We have to thank the Ariyoshis for seeing their private residence as an opportunity to contribute to a public good. All our awards were really enabled by our clients. Their progressive outlooks supported everything that we did.”

It’s a great start for a young firm, especially in a field where architects in their 30s, even 50s, are thought of as “young architects.” Says Hamada, “I’ve heard it said architects reach their prime in their 60s.”

Ho Schar jokingly describes the firm as “small potatoes—it’s just the two of us and we do absolutely everything.” Given where they are now, it will be interesting to see where they go in the years to come.

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Honolulu Magazine February 2020
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