Val’s Way

Honolulu gets the first look at an international tribute to the icon of postwar Hawaiian architecture.
Ossipoff originals:

1. The IBM Building, Kakaako, 1962

2. Goodsill House, Waialae, 1952

3. Ossipoff’s own home in Kuliouou, 1958.

IT’S AN OSSIPOFF HOUSE.” In Hawaii real estate, those words command premium prices. The well-proportioned, understated residences designed by Vladimir “Val” Ossipoff, Hawaii’s iconic postwar architect, just feel good to live in.

Although Ossipoff was a public figure and received national attention for his work, he was also an enigma. “His buildings were complex, and I think he was a very complex individual, and mysterious,” says architect Dean Sakamoto, who grew up in Hawaii and is now director of exhibitions at Yale University School of Architecture.

In celebration of the centenary of Ossipoff’s birth, Sakamoto is curating a landmark exhibition at the Honolulu Academy of Arts that will also travel to Europe and the East Coast. Four years in the making, it explores Ossipoff’s life and work through drawings, photographs, architectural models, a commissioned documentary and an illustrated, 328-page exhibition catalog.

During his 60-year career, Ossipoff, pictured here in 1975, designed more than, 1,000 projects.

The exhibition tells the story of an architect who forged the principles of tropical modernism during Hawaii’s postwar and statehood eras, a time of profound transition. It also serves as a graphic reminder that a “Hawaiian sense of place” doesn’t begin and end with the double-pitched Territorial-style roof.

Ossipoff’s designs shape themselves to the landscape, using intelligent siting and creative ventilation to keep the buildings comfortable in Hawaii’s warm climate. His best-known work takes the extreme of white-cube, trash-the-past modernism and marries it to ancient native Hawaiian layouts. Ossipoff drew equally from his traditional Beaux-Arts training, from the futuristic International Style that was taking the nation by storm, and from the techniques of the Japanese draftsmen with whom he worked in the pre-war decades.

It’s no wonder that Ossipoff’s designs have no single visual signature. Starting with the Animal Hospital on the corner of Sheridan and Kapiolani Boulevard, he created structures as radically different as the IBM building on the Kakaako waterfront and the central terminal of the Honolulu International Airport.

There are fundamentals common to all of Ossipoff’s work. “To me, Ossipoff is not about a style, he’s about a way of designing that considers the basic principles,” Sakamoto says. “Globally, there’s an interest in architecture that’s sympathetic to the environment. Ossipoff stood for all that.”


“Hawaiian Modern: The Architecture of Vladimir Ossipoff”

Nov. 29 through Jan. 27, Honolulu Academy of Arts.