Future Hawaiian structure at UH Hilo

The quiet town of Hilo could soon be home to some of the most compelling new architectures in the state.

Photos: Courtesy of wcit architects

We recently participated in the American Institute of Architects’ annual design awards, Chapter Honolulu, and one of the submissions caught our attention. We love the way WCIT Architects’ plans for the proposed UH Hilo College of Pharmacy facility transform traditional Hawaiian culture and design elements into a modern – and seriously cool – piece of functional architecture.

It turns out the College of Pharmacy is just one of two projects WCIT is designing for UH Hilo. The College of Hawaiian Language is getting a similarly impressive facility, construction of which begins this month. (The first phase of the College of Pharmacy pictured here is still waiting for $ 60 million to be funded by state lawmakers.)

We spoke to Rob Iopa at WCIT about the Hawaiian sources they came from.

Hale battery

The tall, steep roof lines of the main building are inspired by the traditional tall hale pili (grass house). In many modern buildings it can be an inconvenient shape due to the large amount of space under the roof, but for this lab-intensive facility, that extra space turned out to be perfect for stowing bulky mechanical systems.

The Anuu Tower

The futuristic exterior staircase made of glass and metal has its shape from an Anuu, a three-tier ceremonial tower in Heiau (Hawaiian temple). “We started to play how that can be presented in a contemporary way,” says Iopa. “Instead of heightened spirituality, we think about the different levels of knowledge, from basic education below to research above.”

Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea

The buildings themselves are oriented to coincide with Moana Loa and Mauna Kea, the two main geographic features of the Big Island. Even the respective peaks and slopes of the two mountains are reflected in the curved roof lines of the different phases of the College of Pharmacy.

The Piko

Instead of a main street entrance, the college is arranged around a central courtyard. “Traditional Hawaiian buildings don’t have a lobby. You first enter an outside room and from there you enter the building, ”says Iopa. “This center is the pico, the place that gives life.”

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