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Hawaiian Treasure Preserved As Well as Updated

Exterior rendering of the iconic honeycomb façade of the IBM Building
The iconic honeycomb façade of the IBM Building will remain untouched while significant renovations are undertaken on to its interior. © Woods Bagot

The iconic IBM Building in Honolulu will be renovated, but its esteemed honeycomb facade will remain untouched.

July 2, 2013—Renovating a structure that is widely considered to be iconic always presents a challenge; appearances often must be preserved. Remaking such a building in Hawaii has an added complication in that consideration must be given not only to how the weather and environment will affect the work being contemplated but also to how long it will take for materials to be shipped to the islands. And for the historic IBM Building near Honolulu, these challenges were further complicated by the fact that the building owners wanted the design to be in keeping with ahupua’a, a local concept of land parceling.

With these challenges in mind, the international architecture firm Woods Bagot knew what it was taking on when its San Francisco studio won the contract to lead the $20-million update of the IBM Building for Texas-based Howard Hughes Corporation, the building’s owner. Hughes saved the 52-year-old structure, with its distinctive honeycomb brise-soleil grill, from the wrecker’s ball three years ago. The seven-story structure had been slated for demolition by its previous owner, Chicago-based General Growth Properties. Hughes acquired the building and the surrounding 60-acre Ward Center property in 2010 and announced a master plan that preserved the IBM Building and called for the construction of 22 residential towers, along with retail and office space, in a development to be called Ward Village.

“We look forward to the IBM Building becoming an integral part of the vision for Ward Village,” says Nick Vanderboom, the senior vice president of development for Hughes. “It is rewarding to bring new purpose to this iconic structure.” Woods Bagot sees the project as an opportunity for Hughes to boost its standing in the community by carrying out renovation work that respects the structure’s architectural heritage, according to Guion Childress, the project manager for Woods Bagot.

The building was designed by the architect Vladimir Ossipoff, best known for his work in Hawaii, and it is a magnet for architecture firms, two of which are current tenants. The plan involves completing some deferred maintenance and updating and adding design features to the interior, including new floor layouts, according to Childress. “In general the building is in very good shape,” he says. “The modernist ideal is easy to work with. It’s a very efficient building, which made aspects of the renovation easy when compared with other renovations, due to the condition of the building and the floor plan.”

The concrete brise-soleil, which besides acting as a sun shield adds decorative flair, will be maintained, Childress says. “It has held up surprisingly well over 50 years,” he says. “One of the design points from the beginning was to keep the brise-soleil intact.”

But four floors are being completely refurbished, and the elevator banks and mechanical systems will be upgraded. The ground floor will be revamped to feature commercial space as well as part of the sales center for Ward Village. Hughes will move its offices from the sixth floor to a new second floor, and the sixth floor will be renovated to serve as part of the sales center, with model condominium units on display. The penthouse, or seventh floor, which formerly served as a lounge for IBM employees, is being repurposed as a hospitality space for potential buyers. “It captures the views toward the beach, back to Diamond Head, and of course the rest of the development,” says Terry Meurk, AIA, a principal of Woods Bagot and the leader of the firm’s San Francisco office. “People can get a sense of where the buildings are going.”

The view encompasses the ocean, which emphasizes the distance to the U.S. mainland, and this remoteness influenced the design team. “It can be challenging to do work on an island, especially one in the Pacific,” says Meurk. “Shipping schedules become part of the project’s delivery [schedule]. What materials are available and where they are available? You have to have that in the forefront of [your plans for] the delivery of the project.”

Another challenge that Woods Bagot embraced was making the building Hawaiian. This has been achieved by incorporating into the design of the ground floor the concept of ahupua’a, a social organizing principle that envisions property as divided into sections—or slices—that begin at the top of a mountain and go down to the ocean. In the past, native Hawaiians who lived in the mountains would barter with those who lived near the ocean, and this balance between ocean and land is what kept the Hawaiian people alive. “To sustain yourself on the Hawaiian islands you had to have access to the sea and to the mountains,” says Meurk. So, Childress explains, “part of our ground-floor strategy is to use shapes [related to ahupua’a], abstracted, in our design. So the ground floor will have an atypical, curving shaped wall that embodies this concept [and alludes to] the watershed of Nu‘uanu that Ward Village sits within.”

The architects also wanted to take advantage of the island environment with facade changes that would not affect the brise-soleil. Both the ground floor and the top floor will have a transparent appearance thanks to the installation of walls formed by folding glass panels that can be opened to the elements. “Why does anyone go to Hawaii?” asks Meurk. “The air is just better there.”

In addition to Woods Bagot’s global studio, the project team includes the local architecture firm Ferraro Choi and Associates Ltd. and the San Francisco–based landscape architecture firm Surfacedesign, Inc., which has incorporated the brise-soleil motif into its landscape design for the entrance and the fountain. The renovation of the IBM Building is slated for completion by the end of this year, according to Meurk.


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