Protecting a Landmark
Architecture / Last October, when the Howard Hughes Development Corporation unveiled its massive, $7.5 billion “Ward Villages” plan for 60 acres in Kakaako–22 towers and 4,300 residential units in a 15-year build-out–architecture buffs were relieved to hear that the landmark IBM Building on Ala Moana Boulevard, designed by top Hawaii architect Vladimir Ossipoff in 1962, would be spared the wrecking ball.
Demolished, no. But the unique, modernist cube with its brise soleil, or sunscreen–a pristine building many observers believe marks a high point in Hawaiian modernist design–is going to be significantly altered, according to at least two alarmed architects who’ve seen the plans.
Architect and author Glenn Mason, a specialist in the renovation and restoration of historic buildings statewide, saw the plans at a Dec. 13 presentation by Hughes to a group of about 10 local architects. He describes three objectionable alterations to the 51-year-old building: an asymmetric penthouse appendage on the roof; a single-story wing fused to the building at ground level; and grading changes that erase the building’s “pedestal,” which Mason says is a key element of the IBM building’s visual impact.
The reaction of the group to Hughes’ plans for the IBM building was unanimously negative, he says, adding that the people at the meeting are “pretty accomplished designers.”
“There was clear consensus among us that [Hughes] was making a mistake,” Mason said in a phone interview. “It’s unfortunate that they don’t seem willing to change their minds.”
Architect Dean Sakamoto was also at the meeting. Curator of the landmark exhibition of Ossipoff’s work at the Honolulu Academy of Arts in 2007, Sakamoto is also a founder of Docomomo U.S., Hawaii chapter, a group dedicated to the protection of the state’s mid-20th-century architectural heritage (“Architecture Matters Now,” Nov. 14, 2012).
“While I applaud Hughes’s decision to save and repurpose the IBM Building,” Sakamoto said in a prepared personal statement, “the proposed renovation is unsympathetic to the architectural integrity of Ossipoff’s design.”
Nick Vanderboom, senior vice president with Howard Hughes Development Corp., says he attended the Dec. 13 meeting and acknowledges that there were serious concerns expressed. He says various “adjustments” to the plan “are under consideration” but defends the planned alterations, arguing that they’re “consistent with standards for rehabilitation.” He cites guidelines put out by the U.S. Department of the Interior, as well as the developer’s consultations with the Historic Hawaii Foundation. The new additions to the building will be designed to be removable, he says, leaving the building intact when its function as Ward Villages’ sales center is completed at some point at least 15 years in the future.
Interior alterations on the IBM building will begin in a few weeks, Vanderboom says. I ask him if Hughes would consider putting the eligible building on the national or state registers of historic buildings and thereby reap the tax advantages, but he says he’s “not familiar with the details of how that works.”
“Even if it was on the register,” Mason says, “it’s still private property. [Hughes] has the right to do with that property what they want. The only thing that will stop them is peer pressure.”