Doing ‘Pono’ Architecture

By Kurt Hauoli Mitchell
Wednesday - March 19, 2008
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Kurt Hauoli Mitchell

Kurt Hauoli Mitchell, AIA, NCARB, ISP
President & CEO of Kober Hanssen Mitchell Architects

Several months ago, one of our projects appeared in another publication under the caption “Most Unwelcome Architectural Trend.” This project certainly was driven by the building’s function, the location and the owner’s desire to maximize the use.

It’s been referred to by that publication’s editor as being “prison-like” in design. Maybe it should have had a green-tiled double-hip roof, or beige-colored stucco walls. Would that have made it more welcomed or maybe have a better “Hawaiian Sense of Place”? If we designed it that way, then it could look like a hotel, an office building or a theater. If it did, then I would have failed Architecture 101, “Form follows Function.”

I have had many good mentors who had one thing in common: a strong work ethic built on excellence and integrity. Today, this is the foundation of Kober Hanssen Mitchell Architects - hard-working.

We are currently being bombarded with the green words like sustainability, eco-friendly, recycle, alternative energy, etc. We are all jumping on the bandwagon to separate ourselves when it comes to how we approach design and sustainability. Architects are trying to find the best design solution that works for the environment. Our education and training teaches us that we have this responsibility. Today, new social awareness has brought this issue to the forefront. For architects, it has always been a part of the design process.

Local architects think globally, which is great, but this is an island state that has its limitations. Those limitations can be found in design style, area of practice and who our clients are.

Kelvin Chong, Laurie Kaneshiro, John Toguchi, Kurt Mitchell and Kelly Carlson discuss details of a recent project
(from left) Kelvin Chong, Laurie Kaneshiro, John Toguchi, Kurt Mitchell and Kelly Carlson discuss details of a recent project

We’re a native Hawaiian firm, and our clients don’t follow the more traditional approach. KHMA has been in Hawaii for more than 25 years, so the challenge of doing business has been both exciting and rewarding. Our staff experience varies; therefore, there is a constant dialogue in which everyone learns. At KHMA, our one marketing philosophy encompasses the mind, spirit and body. It’s based on excellent service, good architecture and a great work environment, glued together by passion.

At KHMA, we see education as an important component to our success. We also serve as a classroom for the University of Hawaii’s School of Architecture Practicum Program. Architectural doctorate students are exposed to how decisions are made and leadership skills, and learn to become critical thinkers. When I asked our current practicum student Shane Moniz about the future in architecture, the word pono or balanced came to mind.

Shane went on to explain his theory, that pono describes the Hawaiian people, climate and sense of place. As we know, sense of place is a state of mind. We cannot find a balanced state of mind unless the built environment is pleasant, comfortable and safe. I could not have better explained what architecture and KHMA are all about.

By the way, the unwelcome architecture referred to at the top of this article is the Hawaii Self Storage in Kaimuki. This project is a multi-award winner, and has recently won a national design award. KHMA’s measurement is client expectations. This project has far exceeded the client’s expectations. Pono.


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