Aiea’s New Public Library Preserves Its Sugar Plantation Past

Aiea’s new public library was built on the site of a sugar mill. And it shows.
Left: The new Aiea Public Library. Right: The Aiea Sugar Mill circa 1915.
Photos: David Croxford, J.J. Williams, Hawaii State Archives

For nearly 100 years, people heading up Aiea Heights Drive from Moanalua Road were greeted by the sight of the Aiea Sugar Mill, overlooking Pearl Harbor with its skyline-defining smokestack. Today, though, you’ll find a sleek new structure, another striking presence in the historic neighborhood.

The new Aiea Public Library might be shiny and modern, but look closer and you’ll find influences from the site’s sugar plantation past.

Glenn Miura, a principal with local architecture firm CDS International and lead architect in the project, grew up in the shadow of the sugar industry. When he was 7, his father, an Army veteran, moved the family to Halawa Veteran Housing. Miura and his friends wandered all around the sugar mill, wondering about the big building they weren’t allowed to enter.

Later, his family moved to Waipahu. His uncles worked in the sugar mill and his grandparents owned a general store just down the street.

So when the Aiea Public Library project came up, Miura went right back to his roots. “The mill is such an important part of history,” Miura says.  “It’s what brought over so many of my friends’ grandparents and my grandparents from Iwakuni, Japan.  … [So I thought,] Why don’t we have a form, a feeling of a mill and explore the spirit of it.”

The result appears in exposed airconditioning ducts, concrete pillars and floors and industrial-style lighting. The reddish-brown tone of the floor and the roofline beam outside echo the red dirt that stained everything from plantation workers to the walls of the mill.

The steep gable roofs reference the clerestory common in old mills, and windows built above the main roofline echo the ones once designed to vent hot air from warehouses. Here, they act as skylights.

More light streams in through floor-to-ceiling windows that flank the reading areas. Vertical lines inside and outside add striking detail.

“We wanted to do something to catch people’s eyes,” Miura says. “The open side has a straight view down to Pearl Harbor. I had a vision of a lantern on top of a hill.”

Did you know? The Aiea Sugar Mill was built in 1899 and remained in production till 1996.


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