Hawaii’s style of architecture is a compendium of different architectural styles that are either native to the Islands or brought in my various incomers. The rich culture and range of input reflect the range of contributing styles. Today’s Hawaii has everything from the simplest of structures to the most elaborate, and everything in between.
Early Hawaiian buildings were typical of the Polynesian hales, or grass houses, which also contained ridgepoles, purlins, and rafters to give it structure. These are considered to be the earliest form of Hawaiian architecture. The thatching material (usually grass) was attached to purlins with more thatching at the ridgepoles, braided with layers to keep the elements out. There were no nails, so the thatch tied with coconut husk fiber or braided uki grass. Thatching material was usually a variety of grasses, sugar cane leaves, banana trunk fiber, ti, and pandeus leaves. The structures had no windows and only one small doorway.
Ancient Hawaiian architects who designed and built hales were also believed to build irrigation systems, fishponds, and other large structures. Grass hales were continued to be built long after contact with the West was established, along with a coral block and adobe houses around Honolulu Harbor.
Western Contact And Mission Architecture
The West “discovered” Hawaii in 1778, with worldwide visitors. Many stayed, bringing their architectural styles. Russian fur trappers, New England missionaries and whalers, French Catholics and Mormons from the new state of Utah were just some of the visitors who influenced Hawaiian architecture.
American Protestant missionaries came to Hawaii in the early 1800s, building New England style farmhouses. These structures jad high-pitched roofs and plain styling to reflect modest Christian values, and known as “Mission Styling.” Multiple Mission homes, buildings, and churches were built around the Islands, using coral bricks in the place of the New England bricks. Eventually, the style became known as Hawaiian Mission Architecture.
At the same time, French Catholic missionaries from the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary began creating their own version of Hawaiian Mission Style. The Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace is based on a simple form of French architecture with the basilica format. Coral bricks were also used for this church and introduced European architecture into Hawaiian Mission style.
The Hawaiian Catholic Church led the way incorporating the Gothic style into their church designs, followed by the Episcopal Church, who employed vaulting.
After Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in 1910, Bishop Libert H. Boeynaems decided to add some additional work to the church after disliking the original basilica design. The initial project was an extravagant porch over the cathedral’s entrance, to be followed by others. The expensive porch project bankrupted the bishop. His successor removed the costly Gothic project and replaced it with Doric columns.
Only a few more buildings were constructed in Gothic, including the Royal Mausoleum and the Aloha Tower. Ultimately, everyone realized that the extravagant Gothic style would be too expensive to employ and unsuitable for Hawaii’s environment.
Renaissance, Romanesque, Beaux-Arts and Art Deco
A product of Kamehameha V’s reign, Renaissance brought together traditional Roman aesthetics and those of Hawaii into one place. His successor, Kalākaua, also appreciated Renaissance, and in 1882, his Iolani Palace was completed. It is the only example in the world of American Florentine, and was intended as a palace for Hawaii’s royals to rival any European palace.
Using styles from Europe’s 11th and 12th centuries, Romanesque became popular toward the end of the Hawaiian monarchy and the beginning years of its territorial period. With principles and forms employed during the later periods of the Roman empire, Hawaiian builders utilized dark-colored basalt boulders to embody the Hawaiian style. The multiple buildings in the Bernice P. Bishop Museum encompass this style.
The last two styles became part of Hawaiian architecture in the 1920s and 1930s. Beaux-Arts combines Roman and Greek styles and forms into a modernized version. Art Deco is a similar compilation. By integrating Hawaiian treatments and motifs along with these two styles, architects created a distinctly Hawaiian version of both styles.
Created for the many migrant workers who came to Hawaii to work on the sugarcane and plantations, these structures were common around farmland. Wood-framed with low profiles, vertical wood siding, and other features, these simple structures blended well in the Hawaiian landscape. Plantation style began falling out of favor in light of incoming trends from California and other places. It has enjoyed a renaissance since the 1990s, with its distinguishing roof style used in larger-scale projects. Hawaiian plantation architecture is now considered a “signature style” for the state and is being used worldwide.
The Hawaiian International style of architecture is based on the modernistic Bauhaus style, which employs simple, classical principles, without excessive ornamentation, but includes a number of Hawaiian touches.
The First Hawaiian Center, one of two major skyscrapers in Hawaii, was completed in 1996. In a nod to Hawaiian architecture, the building includes incorporating natural light into the interior, vertically proportioned windows facing the mountains, and horizontally proportioned windows facing the ocean. Both office and residential towers now overlook Hawaii, with most along the Nuʻuanu corridor.
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