The number of books devoted to architecture in Hawaii is so small, a nightstand might be enough to hold them. That nightstand would be poorly furnished, though, if it did not include a copy of Architecture in Hawaii, A Chronological Survey. First published in 1993, the book made itself essential as an overview of more than 150 major buildings from the time of the monarchy to the present day.
The present day never stands still, however. In the final pages of the 1993 edition, authors Ron Sandler and Julie Mehta, and editor Frank S. Haines, FAIA, could only show a rendering of Harbor Court, then just a gleam in a developer’s eye, and a photograph of a model for the proposed Aloha Tower Marketplace. On the book’s last photo page? Chris Hemmeter’s Black Point estate, looking so very … 1980s.
Mutual Publishing has just released a new edition of the book, with photos and descriptions of 22 projects that have been built in the Islands since 1993. It’s a welcome and necessary update. The practice of architecture in Hawaii has gone through some soul searching over the past 15 years and the new pages extend the book’s story of how we build things in the Islands.
We sat down with architect Frank Haines over lunch at the Pacific Club, to talk about architecture in Hawaii—the book, the buildings and his own history with architecture here.
If Hawaii’s architecture has a kind of curator, it would have to be Haines. He was one of the earliest partners at what became one of Hawaii’s largest firms, Architects Hawaii, where he worked on such high-profile projects as the Prince Kuhio Federal Building, Kaiser Permanente’s Honolulu Clinic and Moanalua Medical Center and the 1978 restoration of Aliiolani Hale. At 87, he still chairs Architects Hawaii’s board of directors. He also co-founded the Downtown-Chinatown architecture walking tour 50 years ago, and still conducts the Saturday morning tour (see page 75 for more information on the tours). He’s been on the board of Historic Hawaii Foundation since it was founded in 1974, reviewing projects submitted for historic preservation awards.
He is one of just a handful of architects in Hawaii who seem as devoted to architecture’s past as to its future, standing alongside such architects as Glenn Mason, AIA, and Spencer Leineweber, AIA, who both specialize in historic preservation.
So it’s no surprise that Mehta, who thought of writing a book on Hawaii architecture while serving here in the Coast Guard, approached Haines for help with the first edition. “I didn’t write any of the book, but I started out by making a list of the buildings that should be included and categorized them by period,” recalls Haines. When Mutual Publishing decided to update the book, it approached Haines again for the same advice.
How to choose which new buildings to include? Haines first turned to the list of winners from the AIA (American Institute of Architects) design awards since 1993. “From there, I selected a wide variety of business types—homes, public housing, offices, etc. Then I tried to find projects that represented the different islands more [than the first edition had done]. Finally, I wanted to parcel out the new additions among as many different architects as I could.”
Architecture in Hawaii is more descriptive than critical, heavy on photos. Captions, by Rob Sandler, give brief histories for each building, detailing its designers and builders and notable aspects of their construction, with little editorializing. It includes some private homes, but, like a lot of books on architecture, it concentrates on big, public projects—skyline stuff, and buildings with a more communal function, such as high rises and churches, government buildings, hotels, banks, schools.
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?”
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  Theo H. Davies Building. It was built practically over the sidewalk, so you had a nice covered walkway around the building,” he says.
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.