Hawaii Convention Center
Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii
Located at one of the busiest intersections in Waikiki, the Hawaii Convention Center occupies the 7.9 acre site of the former Aloha Motors. Bounded by Kapiolani Avenue on the north and Kalakaua Avenue on the east, this multi-storied structure consisting of exhibition areas, meeting rooms, ballrooms and multi-level parking creates an imposing presence along these major view corridors. Given this massive structure within the urban setting, the landscaping serves to create a vital transition between the Convention Center and its surrounding environs.
The objective of the landscape design was to enhance the Hawaiian “sense of place” expressed in the architecture by maximizing the effect of the landscape through and around the Hawaii Convention Center. In most convention centers, landscaping, if it exists, plays only a perfunctory and limited role. The use of landscaping at the Hawaii Convention Center, however, distinguishes it both nationally and internationally from other convention centers around the world. The landscaping at the Hawaii Convention Center is as important as the building in communicating the essence of Hawaii’s uniqueness, and enhances the Hawaiian “sense of place.”
From the point of view of the landscape, our Hawaiian “sense of place” is derived from cultural perceptions that are taught as well as sensory aspects that are felt. The cultural component of our landscape is expressed through the use of native Hawaiian and Polynesian-introduced plants that have always been important to the Hawaiian culture: Taro, Hala, Kukui, Breadfruit, Banana, Ti, Kou, Milo, Ilima, Coconut Palm, and many others. These native plants, with their strong cultural heritage, have been included because of their historic significance to Waikiki as well as because of their educational value. They are a means through which the visitor might learn more about the culture of Hawaii.
In addition to these native Hawaiian plants, many of the exotics that visitors have come to associate with the islands have been used. These have been included because our Hawaiian “sense of place” is perceived not only through our culture, but truly through all our senses of sight, smell, touch, taste and sound. The fragrance of Plumeria, Puakenikeni, Yellow Ginger, and Night-blooming Jasmine, along with the striking colors and forms of red, yellow, and orange Heliconia, Torch Gingers and Bird of Paradise, the delicate textures of Palapalai Fern, and the bold textures of Monstera, are all incorporated within the landscape.
There is more than 2 acres of landscape space at the Hawaii Convention Center, about 25 percent of the project site. The perceived effect of the landscape, however, far exceeds its actual square footage. Vines cascading from trellis planters and edge planters on the Parking, Meeting and Ballroom levels provide hanging tapestries of green along the building walls. Landscape berms help to minimize the height and bulk of the building from the street. Coconut Palms and canopy trees provide a 40’-high landscaped filter through which glimpses of the building may be seen.
More people see the Convention Center from the streets, as motorists or pedestrians, than those who actually enter the facility to use it. Along Kalakaua Avenue, the Convention Center is buffered from the street by a landscaped area varying in depth from 26 feet to 64 feet. A 5-foot high berm along the base of the building decreases the apparent height of the Convention Center along the street. The sidewalk meanders away from the street to provide a more pleasant experience for the pedestrian, while increasing the perceived depth of the landscape from the street. Additional building planters at the Parking, Meeting and Ballroom levels further enhance the landscape effect along this side of the building. A continuous row of Rainbow Shower Trees along the street edge and tall Coconut Palms and canopy trees on the makai side of the sidewalk serve as a welcome respite to much of the visual chaos along this stretch of Kalakaua Avenue.
A continuous line of Monkeypod Trees interspersed with Coconut Palms is the primary landscape statement along the Convention Center at both Kapiolani Boulevard and Atkinson Drive. These trees have both the height and mass to provide an appropriate scale for the building beyond. A low berm partially screens the view of waiting buses along the driveway adjacent to this busy intersection.
The random planting of palms around the porte cochere continues into the 80-foot high skylighted lobby, creating an interior palm grove. A narrow ribbon of water falls from the 70-foot high waterfall at the Ballroom level above, simulating the falls from the sheer cliffs of the Na Pali Coast on Kauai. Vine planters along both the Parking and Meeting levels overhang the main lobby. The goal was to merge the perception of indoor versus outdoor space and to provide a landscaped environment within the lobby that can also be seen and appreciated by passersby on the adjacent streets.
A random planting of Coconut Palms descends through grassed steps to the Ala Wai Canal. The wide grassed steps provide a large sitting areas that can accommodate both community and convention-related festivities held on stages set on the Ala Wai Promenade or on entertainment barges brought in for special events. Coconut Palms provide shade and enhance the theme of palms proceeding through the Convention Center from the porte cochere and lobby, up to the Meeting Room Level Central Concourse, then down the central spine to the Ala Wai Canal.
Garden courtyards are located in both the mauka and makai meeting complexes. Each garden has a distinctive character of its own. They provide opportunities for informal meetings between new friends and old acquaintances and a respite from the air- conditioned confines of the meeting rooms.
The Ballroom/Roof Garden Terrace, the primary outdoor function area, is a signature feature of the Hawaii Convention Center. This is the area where luaus and cocktail
parties can occur in a garden setting with views both of the mountains and the water. The makai side of Roof Garden, a densely planted landscape buffer, provides visual screening and sound attenuation for the adjacent apartment buildings. It also serves as a beautiful tropical setting for outdoor functions and an instructive eco-cultural tool for exposing visitors to many of the native and exotic plant materials important to Hawaii. Nearly half an acre is devoted to this display.
The Taro pond on the Roof Terrace, with its streams overflowing both the lobby and Ala Wai edges, is the visual source of the major water features of the Hawaii Convention Center. At the lobby edge, the stream appears to feed the narrow, ribbon-like waterfall that threads its way 70 feet to the lobby below. At the Ala Wai edge, it appears to become a series of cascading waterfalls that run along the grassed steps proceeding to the Ala Wai Promenade. At the bottom of the falls, the water terminates in a large Taro pond, symbolic of the many Taro ponds that were so important to the area.
The Hawaii Convention Center is not a “building with landscaping.” Rather, it is a landscaped building, a building conceived as a series of landscaped terraces, with its theme of palm groves and falling water as a central element. The landscape is not only to be looked at, but also experienced through all the senses. The fragrance of flowers, the many sounds of water and leaves in the breeze, textures to feel and colors to see, all combine to provide a landscape experience afforded by no other convention center. The heavy emphasis on native Hawaiian plant materials serves to communicate some of the basic elements of Hawaiian culture to the visitor. For many, it will be the first and only exposure to the many important ways in which native Hawaiians used the plants that are merely regarded as part of the landscape to others. The landscape is not only meant to please the eye, but to educate as well.