Designed to Endure

Designed to Endure

Among the contemporary and state-of-the-art high-rise residential towers that define the present architectural persuasion of Ward Village, there’s a mid-century modern marvel that is the cornerstone of the neighborhood’s commitment to honoring design and art from decades past to centuries ago. The IBM building, located at the corner of Ala Moana Boulevard and Queen Street, was built in 1962 by preeminent mid-century modern architect Vladimir Ossipoff. Its character is defined by the rhythmic geometric cement façade, a brise-soleil in industry-speak, that wraps the building. Immediately recognizable, unique, and purposefully built to shade the interior spaces, the building has become a regional icon.

The IBM building is one of many Honolulu mid-century modern buildings and homes that were built around the time of statehood, which neatly coincided with the height of the modern architectural movement. Over half a century later, and many of these structures have become sights to see or are in desperate need of renovation and rejuvenation. Enter the Docomomo US/Hawaii Chapter, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the documentation and conservation of buildings, sites, and neighborhoods of the modern movement.

Celebrating their eighth anniversary this December, the dedicated professionals on board this local group consider these modern architectural sites historical resources and important references with the potential to inform future preservation and development in the state. In addition to documenting and preserving the modern movement, the group also increases public and professional awareness of Hawai‘i’s modern heritage through advocacy, organized events, development of resource material, and collaboration with other organizations.

September was a busy month for the Docomomo US/Hawaii Chapter. The parent organization, Docomomo International, held its annual symposium in Honolulu, and design industry folks from around the world came together to celebrate modern design and Hawai‘i’s unique expression of the movement. In addition to the business end of the symposium, the chapter curated several walking tours to show off Honolulu’s contribution to this iconic design movement.

Following WWII, Makiki—sitting right in between Kaka‘ako and the verdant Ko‘olau Mountains—was one of the first neighborhoods outside of Waikiki to be developed for high-rise apartment living. The Docomomo walking tour visited nine mid-century modern apartment buildings, compact treasure troves that express the vision of notable architects such as Edwin Bauer and Frank Haines. Another tour visited the Hawai‘i Capitol District, which is considered architectural regionalism at its finest. The design and construction of the Board of Water Supply building and the Hawai‘i State Capitol, among others, incorporated an innovative blend of Eastern and Western architectural forms in a conscious manner, all inspired by Hawai‘i’s natural beauty, benevolent climate, and cosmopolitan culture.

Waikīkī is also home to a great many mid-century modern buildings. Many of the high-rise apartment buildings that line Ala Wai Boulevard showcase this storied design. Docomomo Hawaii compiled a map of the properties and a self-guided tour. Also on their list of important sites to visit was Waikīkī’s Gold Coast, a small stretch of luxurious condominiums built right on the edge of the ocean from Kapi‘olani Park to the base of Diamond Head. Erected during the height of the modern movement, these eclectic and modern buildings were designed by some of Hawai‘i’s most famous architects and represent a past vision of the what tropical urban living could look like.  Do the clean lines and minimalism of mid-century modern architect and design capture your attention and tickle your fancy? If that’s a yes, you can also take the Waikiki Modern and Gold Coast self-guided walking tours. Just visit to find the maps for these tours.