Monday, May 10, 1999

Isle buildings
need identity,
architect says

The designer, who will lecture
tonight, says Hawaii offers
its own unique image

By Russ Lynch


Hawaii should quit looking at its old buildings for inspiration when designing new ones, says an internationally known architect.

"You need to express the identity of the place," and buildings built by earlier generations don't necessarily do that, said Romaldo Giurgola, the Italian-born architect whose creations include Australia's new Parliament building.

"People try to copy what has been done before," he said in an interview last week. A frequent visitor to Hawaii, Giurgola is in Honolulu to give a speech to the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects tonight.

He said architects should thoroughly study Hawaii's unique blend of mountains, rain, ocean, colors and cultures before going to the drawing board.

Giurgola also said architects should be looking at ways to use the special varieties of craftsmanship that are available locally.

"You have a tradition for making walls," he said, referring to the stone walls built by the ancient Hawaiians. "You have a tradition for the making of boats." That's the type of skill that should be tapped by developers and their architects, he said.

Giurgola, who was educated in Italy and later in the United States, where he was Professor of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania from 1954 to 1966, now lives in Australia and has a partnership there, Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp Architects.

In Australia, he won an international design competition to build the New Parliament House in Canberra, which was completed in 1988. After that, he stayed, brought in an Australian partner and went on to do other projects.

For the Parliament House, he made extensive use of local craftsmen and found it paid off in handsome, creative work that reflects the nature of Australians and their environment and cost about the same as it would have to bring in "industrial" items such as factory-made furniture and wall panels, he said.

Giurgola put together a consortium of local furniture makers, for example, working with them on designs and pooling their resources to keep costs in line. That consortium still functions and has gone on to do work for other projects.

Perhaps because he is getting on in years himself, approaching 80, the 1982 AIA "Gold Medal" winner would like to see more permanence in structures. He doesn't much like the modern mass-produced buildings he sees. People have "lost touch with craftsmanship" and with the notion of creating something of value, lasting value, he said.

Giurgola thinks it is wrong to import architecture from somewhere else. He worked on projects in Singapore, whose rapid economic development brought a rush of high-rise buildings, whose designs came straight from the United States. Along came Singapore's tropical downpours and water build up on the U.S.-style flat roofs and filtered down into the buildings.

Why build that way when you can opt for the ancient styles of the area, with steep, tall roofs, he asks.

But Giurgola, who says he has visited Hawaii fairly often through several decades, likes what he is now seeing in Waikiki. "The architecture is more tranquil and laid back."

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