Hawai‘i by Design – Advancing Architecture

In Hawai‘i architecture, new is good—whether it’s tapping the next generation of architects for fresh design ideas or figuring out a way to build houses before they ever get to the construction site.


In Hawai‘i’s expensive housing market, everyone’s looking for a way to cut costs. Big Island development company Aloha ‘Aina Homes has found one solution in modular housing. Workers in a 40,000 square feet manufacturing facility in Honokohau Industrial Park build entire sections of houses, complete with wiring, plumbing and cabinetry, truck them out to the construction site and bolt them together.

photos: courtesy of Aloha ‘Aina Homes

These aren’t the high-concept prefab concoctions often profiled in national architecture magazines—Aloha ‘Aina Homes is courting a wider audience with affordable, conventional-looking house models. “Unless you’re very sophisticated in construction technique, or you know exactly what to look for, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference,” says the company’s president, Alan Dickler.

Haloa and Nichole Paakonia were among the first to move into a three-bedroom, two-bathroom, modular home last summer. Haloa says he saw the house being put together and was a little skeptical. But now that he’s been living in the house for almost a year, he says he’s very happy with the result, especially for $280,000. “It’s pretty comfortable, and you can’t even tell that they put the house together from two halves,” Haloa says.

The house has even endured a significant test of strength—the 6.6-Richter-scale earthquake that rocked the Big Island last October. “Not one thing went wrong after the earthquake, not even drywall cracks. And we went through some heavy-duty shaking. All it has to do now is survive a hurricane,” says Haloa, laughing.

Thanks to efficiencies of scale, Aloha ‘Aina can crank out 10 units per month, up to 40 percent faster than a built-in-place house. Because each home must be adhere to the same building codes as conventionally constructed houses, the overall cost savings are a little smaller, 10 to 20 percent.

But Aloha ‘Aina’s initial run of single-family residences was so successful that it’s now working on Seascape Condominiums, a 108-unit-affordable housing project near Honokohau Harbor that comprises eight-unit walk-up apartment buildings using the same modular technology. Dickler says he only expects things to get bigger from there. “[Modular construction] is the future of construction, because it’s the only way that you can control cost and control quality,” he says.


When Amy Anderson, an associate professor at the University of Hawai‘i’s School of Architecture, was coming up with classwork for the upper level architecture students in her advanced design studio, she knew the best learning environment would be a hands-on, real-world project. Conceptual exercises are great practice, but nothing drives home the challenges of architectural design better than the budget constraints and inevitable complications of planning an actual house.

She found the perfect partner in the Department of Hawaiian Homelands, which is currently planning its new East Kapolei 1 development, and agreed to let Anderson’s students take a crack at designing housing that would work well with the site plan.

“There’s so much potential here to bring new ideas to the table,” says Anderson. “The university has the perspective, the resources, the community, to open things up a bit.”

UH School of Architecture students Jonathan Ching, Kanoa Chung and Andrea Simpliciano work on a potential DHHL model home with UH associate professor Amy Anderson (center). photo: Olivier Koning

At the beginning of the program, in spring 2006, students met with DHHL to get the project requirements, and then split into teams. Anderson says each group tackled the assignment from a different angle. “One group was very proactive, and went out to interview Hawaiian Homesteaders about what the real issues and problems were,” she says. “They came back with some very good solutions based on that information.”

Another group focused on the environmental challenges of building on the hot and dusty Kapolei plain, yet another explored the possibility of using locally sourced construction materials, collaborating with third-party organizations such as the Hawai‘i Forest Industry Association.

The groups presented the projects to DHHL in December, and this semester’s class is continuing to explore the issues raised during last year’s work. DHHL hasn’t committed to using any of the students’ designs, but spokesperson Lloyd Yonenaka says the department is always interested in new ideas. “We wanted to give the students real-world experience, but at the same time, to open things up and see if they can give us ideas that we can use. And if there are concepts that come out of this that we can actually use, we certainly will.”

In any case, the program has been a hit with UH students. Jonathan Ching, a student in this semester’s class, says, “Working on real-world stuff, that’s exciting. I’m just hoping that whatever comes out of this helps the Hawaiian community out. Even if it’s just in a little way, I’ll be happy.”


photo: courtesy of Hotel Renew

Hotel Renew

Opening this summer, Hotel Renew is being billed as O‘ahu’s first “design boutique” hotel. The 70-room is definitely a departure from Waikiki’s ubiquitous Island aesthetic, featuring an elegant monochromatic color scheme with clean lines and dark woods. Designer Jiun Ho says, “We’re trying to create a tranquil environment. We wanted to use primitive, organic materials that would convey the Island feel in an understated way.” Tech-savvy visitors haven’t been forgotten—each room features high-tech amenities such as computerized multimedia systems and televisions that project directly onto the wall.

photo: courtesy of Eight Inc.

The Malama Learning Center

More than three years after winning the contract to design an environmentally friendly learning center for Kapolei High School and The Nature Conservancy, architectural firm Eight Inc. is now working to streamline its plan, after inflation made construction costs jump 40 percent. There’s still room for amenities, including an outdoor performance space modeled on the form of the traditional hula mound.

photo: courtesy of Ferraro Choi

The Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology at Coconut Island

Ferraro Choi based its sustainable design for a new marine research facility at Coconut Island on (what else?) a wave formation. The institute is currently raising funds for construction.

photos: courtesy of Peter Vincent Architects

Kapolei Golf Course Clubhouse Renovation

To regain a spot on national golfing circuits, Kapolei Golf Course hired Peter Vincent Architects to update the clubhouse and pro shop facilities while blending the new elements with existing traditional forms. The new digs are scheduled to open this summer.

photos: courtesy of John Hara Associates

UH West O‘ahu Campus

The University of Hawai‘i’s West O‘ahu campus is getting closer and closer to reality. Architectural firm John Hara Associates has unveiled its plans for the new schools, which will recall, in spirit, the old ‘Ewa Sugar Mill. But don’t expect an extension of the green-tiled “Kapolei look”; Hara says he didn’t want to create more slavishly plantation architecture. Here’s what the first phase will look like when it opens in late 2009.