Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Concrete in Paradise: The East-West Center at the University of Hawaii

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John F. Kennedy Theatre, by I.M. Pei (1962). Photo ©Darren Bradley
Pritzker Prize-winning architect I.M. Pei is perhaps best known to Americans as the guy who designed the glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre museum in Paris. He also designed quite a few notable buildings around the world, including the Dallas City Hall, the East Wing of the National Gallery in Washington, DC, the Kennedy Library, the Javits Center in New York, the Hancock Tower in Boston, and the Bank of China tower in Hong Kong, among others... But relatively few people know that he also designed a collection of buildings on the campus of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. 


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Jefferson Hall Conference Center is perhaps the most well known of the buildings, and shows the most Asian influence of the buildings at EWC. The Japanese garden behind it (shown here in the foreground) is known as the "Seien", or "Serene Garden", and was designed by landscape architect Kenzo Ogata.
Photo ©Darren Bradley
The East-West Center, as its known, is a fairly unique concept. It was proposed as an international university for the Pacific region, based in Hawaii. The Center would be "a meeting place for the intellectuals of the East and the West." It was created by a Federal initiative in 1959-60, thanks to the efforts then Senator Lyndon Johnson (D-TX) and President Dwight Eisenhower. 


Jefferson Hall Conference Center
Did I mention this thing is huge? Photo ©Darren Bradley

Jefferson Hall Conference Center
Jefferson Conference Center, with the Kennedy Theatre across the street. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Back then, Congress did stuff, and it was actually considered normal for Republicans and Democrats to work together. Republicans even believed that the government had a positive role to play in people's lives, and a responsibility to fund initiatives like this. Go figure. 


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Post-card from the early 60s showing Hale Manoa in the foreground, with Jefferson Hall behind it and Kennedy Theatre on the left. Postcard courtesy of Heather David. 
Anyway, back to the architecture part of the story. Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei was tapped to design the core buildings of the new campus on the eastern edge of UH. Pei was already coming into his own as a brilliant architect, after designed a number of buildings in Atlanta, Denver, and was also designing the new L'Enfant Plaza in DC at the time. Of course, the symbolism of having a Chinese-American architect design the buildings of the East-West Center was probably not lost on anybody. 
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Ieoh Ming Pei going in his usual standard issue Le Corbusier glasses. 

By the time the new school broke ground in 1961, Kennedy had been elected President and Lyndon Johnson had become Vice President. Johnson was present at the ceremony for the school that he had helped to establish. All of Pei's original buildings were completed by 1962. 

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That's Vice President LBJ on the far right, in black suit and lei, during the groundbreaking ceremony for the East-West Center, May 1961. Photo: EWC. 

While Jefferson Hall is perhaps the most well-known building of the group, I'm really fascinated by Hale Manoa. 

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The Corbusian Hale Manoa, as seen through the trees of the adjacent park. Photo ©Darren Bradley

This 13-storey building was original designed as the men's dormitory (the women were originally housed in a smaller, 4-storey building called Hale Kuahine on the other side of the campus). It's now a co-ed dorm, but that's not the interesting part. What I really think is great about this building is how it is inspired by Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation designs in France and Germany. 

La Cité Radieuse
La Cité Radieuse in Marseille was the first of Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation designs. Photo ©Darren Bradley
Here's another view of it... 
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La Cité Radieuse, by Le Corbusier in Marseille, France. Photo ©Darren Bradley
Corbusier designed his building in Marseille to take advantage of the views on both sides (mountains on one side, the sea on the other), and each unit has windows on both sides, to allow natural cross ventilation. There are also elevated "streets" on upper floors of Corbusier's buildings with shops and areas for the inhabitants to congregate. 

La Cité Radieuse
Here's a view of one of the "streets" inside Le Corbusier's Cité Radieuse, complete with shops for the residents of the building.
Photo ©Darren Bradley

For the Hale Manoa dorm, Pei was directly inspired by Le Corbusier's design. 
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Note the open air terraces on the 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 12th floors. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Pei saw a lot in common with Le Corbusier's site in Marseille. In fact, the park-like tropical site in Hawaii was even better suited for this sort of open-air design than Marseille. It even has a Mauka (mountain) side and a Makai (ocean) side. No, those aren't the French words. 

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Stepping off the elevator on the 12th floor and onto the open-air terrace, one is greeted by a nice view of Diamond Head and Waikiki in the distance. Photo ©Darren Bradley
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The view mauka side offers a great view of the Manoa Valley, with the UH campus below. That's Jefferson Hall visible in the immediate foreground. Photo ©Darren Bradley

On the makai side, towards the water and Diamond Head, Pei replaced Le Corbusier's "streets" and shops with a series of open-air kitchens and dining areas. Each student there is assigned a locked kitchen cabinet and has access to one of the communal kitchens that are completely open to the outdoors. 


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The kitchens and dining areas in the elevated terraces. Photo ©Darren Bradley

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Student eating lunch in one of the open-air kitchens. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Given Hawaii's tropical climate, this is really the perfect solution. Students cooking here have really one of the best views in Honolulu. 

Clearly, Pei was struck by the similarities that this site in Manoa had to the park in Marseille where Le Corbusier designed and built his first Unité d'Habitation. And he couldn't resist adapting Corbu's design to this college dorm in Honolulu, while retaining a style that is still his own and also uniquely possible in Hawaii. If only architects today could still design (and more importantly - builders and developers would still build) homes and buildings in Hawaii that could function this well, without air conditioning and suited to the local climate. 

3 comments:

colinbisset.com said...

Those open kitchens are terrific and I'm sure the bulk of the concrete keeps things cool. And you're right - the tropical surroundings really add the right balance to that structure in a way that the Unite is only just achieving now that the trees are larger. Really like the heft of the Jefferson Hall. Reminds me a little of the Northern Territory Parliament Building in Darwin, Australia - heroic scale http://www.nt.gov.au/lant/. Pei's museum in Suzhou is sublime after all his massive works: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/blueprintforliving/iconic-buildings-suzhou-museum/6364094
Thank you, as ever, for your inspiring photos and introduction to new buildings!

orog13 said...

beautiful pictures darren and great article...pei nailed it...
it's definitely a diamond in the rough here...too bad many of the newer buildings on campus didn't emulate his taking advantage of our natural environment...

please take a look at this article on the history of kennedy theatre which has a prelimary sketch of the facility:
http://manoa.hawaii.edu/artsci/alumni/Documents/KKI/KKI%20Spring%202009.pdf

pei's firm has been hired to do sen. inouye's library on campus...he also still has relatives who live in kahala...maybe we will have the fortune to see him at a docomomohi event? one can only hope...

aloha,

goro

Rosypeter S said...

The building given in this blog was really amazing. The design and the style of the building was nice. It is unique.
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