An Overview of Architecture in the Hawaiian Islands

Styles of Hawaii Architecture Reflect Hawaii’s History

The distinct architectural styles of Hawaii incorporate various influences from around the world. Architecture in Hawaii began with the dwellings of the native Hawaiians before Western contact. After the arrival of Captain Cook in 1778 many visitors began arriving in the Islands and each brought their own building styles and methods.

Hawaii’s Early Architectural Influences

Hawaii’s early architecture reflected a constant infusion of new ideas and styles. From the early Russian fur traders and European traders to New England whalers and missionaries, the influences to Hawaii’s architecture were manifold.

The building techniques of the many different ethnic groups who landed on Hawaiian shores and became permanent residents was reflected in the many structures they built.

From the Missionaries to the Sugarcane Era

One of the most pervasive influences to Hawaii’s architecture began with the arrival of the American Protestant missionaries from New England in the 1820s. The missionaries built not only churches but also homes to live in and schools to instruct Hawaiians and teach them the newly minted “Hawaiian alphabet” so they could read and write in their own language.

Other religious groups also began arriving in Hawaii including Mormons from Utah, Catholics from France and many others whose goal was to spread their faith to distant shores. Many of these new Hawaii residents built structures in the Islands and began to have a significant influence on Hawaii’s architecture.

The next huge influence to Island architectural styles was Hawaii’s sugarcane era which brought hundreds of thousands of laborers to the Islands. Beginning in the 1800s and throughout the 1900s sugarcane plantation laborers came from China and Japan as well the Philippines, Portugal and numerous other countries.

Dwellings were built by these groups in the way they were accustomed while also incorporating local materials and methods.

Hawaiian Mission Architecture

The missionaries’ frame houses in Hawaii were very similar to the farm houses of New England with high-pitched roofs as well as overlapping weatherboards known as clapboards. The architectural style was relatively simple and reflected the missionaries’ Christian virtues and puritan ideals of plainness and modesty.

On Kauai a good example of this early missionary architecture is seen in Hanalei at the Waioli Mission House constructed in the 1820s. Next to the mission house is the original Waioli church built in the 1840s using large beams hewn from the native ohia lehua trees growing in Waioli Valley. The church features one of the earliest examples of the split-pitch roof that would become very popular throughout the islands.

The architectural style used by the missionaries began to incorporate traditional Hawaiian elements such as using coral blocks from Hawaii’s reefs to substitute for New England bricks. Eventually the design style became known as Hawaiian Mission Architecture.

Another good example of Hawaii Mission Architecture is Honolulu’s Kawaiahao Church which was constructed in the New England Style with Gothic influences. Dedicated in 1842, the church is one of Hawaii’s oldest coral block structures.

Alongside the church are the restored mission houses now known as the Mission Houses Museum. These are a great example of the early wood frame houses constructed by American Protestant missionaries.

Hawaiian Renaissance and Gothic Architectural Styles

Hawaiian Renaissance Architecture can be seen in Honolulu’s famous Aliiolani Hale commissioned by King Kamehameha V in 1850. With a sleek beauty reflecting Italian themes the building was intended to be a royal palace though it ended up being the Judiciary center.

The Gothic Architectural Style was first seen in the Islands when the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace was renovated in Honolulu in 1910.

Hawaiian Romanesque Architectural Style

When the Territorial era began at the end of the 1800s a Romanesque Architecture style appeared in the islands reflecting the forms and principles of 11th and 12th century European structures.

The Hawaiian Romanesque architectural style uses large, dark-colored basalt boulders, rounded arches, groin and barrel vaults and cruciform piers for support. Today the Romanesque style can be seen in structures of the Bishop Museum.

Art Deco And Beaux-Arts Architectural Styles

In the 1920s the Beaux-Arts and Art Deco styles appeared in Hawaii incorporating tropical themes and Hawaiian motifs. Art Deco modernizes a range of architectural styles while Beaux-Arts is a Neoclassical form which originated in the 1800s in France and gave modern form to ancient Greek and Roman architectural styles.

Reflections of the Beaux-Arts style can be seen in the War Memorial Natatorium in Waikiki while Art Deco can be seen in Honolulu’s elegant Hawaii Theatre.

International Architectural Style

In the 1960s the International Architectural Style became popular having first been developed in the 1920s as an American form of Bauhaus architecture. The style utilizes simplified forms of classical principles with little ornamentation and was used for many office buildings in Honolulu.

The colors of the International Style are typically dull white, gray, black or beige. Island motifs were incorporated in many International Style structures including the Hawaii State Capitol Building.

Hawaiian Plantation Architecture

In the 1970s and 1980s the Hawaiian Plantation Architecture style became very popular in Hawaii and was modeled after the building style used in the sugarcane plantation labor camps. Plantation style architecture features wide-hipped roofs and the eaves are deep-bracketed. The homes also have big porticos and employ vertical plank siding.

Oahu Skyscrapers

In the 1990s Honolulu’s skyscraper era began with the construction of the First Hawaiian Center and First Hawaiian Tower on Bishop Street. Tropical features are incorporated into these buildings including windows that take advantage of tradewind breezes and spectacular mountain and ocean views.

Modern Hawaiian Architecture

Hawaii’s architecture continues to evolve with modern architects incorporating a variety of styles from California Mission architecture to Asian influences. Large lanais are popular as are interior courtyards, and architects continue to redefine traditional as well as contemporary themes.

Also part of Hawaii’s modern architecture are innovative new building techniques including sustainable building methods and new materials.

Modern day Hawaiian architecture reflects Hawaii’s rich cultural traditions from the thatched huts of the ancient Hawaiians to Honolulu high rise buildings. Just as the people of Hawaii are a melting pot of cultures, so too is the architecture of the Islands which today continues to reflect a unique Hawaiian style.