Afterthoughts: Think Pink

Why is every building in Honolulu so beige?

Photo: Linny Morris

Over the past few years, I’ve been enjoying the modern, glassy high-rises popping up in Kakaako. The twin spaceships of the Moana Pacific make me daydream about the futuristic city Honolulu is slowly becoming, and the recent news of a possible 650-foot-tall condominium near Restaurant Row fills me with glee. What can I say, I love a good skyline.

But I feel there’s something missing in most of the new construction around town: color.

Reflective glass, whites and grays might be practical, but they’re also boring. It’s the same conservative urge that fills our roads with beige four-doors. Hawaii deserves more racecars like the metallic-orange Honolulu Design Center.

illustration: daniel fishel

Even renovations of older buildings have been tending toward the bland. For years, my favorite landmark on Kapiolani Boulevard was The Hawaiian Life Building, which sported a cheerful rainbow of colors on its facade of vertical aluminum fins. I’d smile every time I passed it.

And then, one day in late 2009, the rainbow got bleached white, as part of a larger renovation transforming the building into the Hawaii National Bank Building. Cleaner, the project architects said. Closer to Ossipoff’s original vision, they said. No longer worth a second glance, I said.

Of course, this is coming from someone who is still mourning UH’s decision to change the name of its football team from the Rainbows to the Warriors. Don’t go, Bows!

So here’s my plea. Honolulu, embrace your color. We’re a subtropical paradise. Let’s celebrate it. With a little focus, we could develop as memorable a built environment as South Beach or San Francisco. And if we need to pick one official color for this Pantone push, the choice is clear: pink.

Wait, wait, this isn’t the garish, Hello Kitty idea you might be imagining. There’s plenty of historic precedent: the Tripler Army Medical Center, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Tamashiro Market. All uniquely local, all beloved in their own rights.

And while pink sometimes gets pegged as a girly color, think about how versatile it actually becomes in an architectural setting. It gives Tripler a stately presence up on Red Hill. It suffuses the Royal Hawaiian with a romantic glow. Even Tamashiro Market, which is otherwise, let’s face it,  a pile of cinderblock, gains a friendly spark from its pink paint job.

As much as I’d like to see an invasion of pink, though, I’ll take just about any flash of color I can get. My most recent double-take was inspired by Mark Glen Auctions, near the intersection of Beretania and Keeaumoku, which has painted its entire building gold. It’s just a squat, 1-story, brick storefront. In its former, beige incarnation, it was all but invisible, blending into all the other samey-same storefronts. Now, gold, it’s a gloriously weird sight, and while it might be a tiny bit tacky, it somehow feels exactly right.