A Voyage of Design

Oct 3, 2018

Tasked with the need for an administration building that connects culture, education, environment and community and provides a source of revenue, RIM set out on a voyage to design. After three months working with the client and local stakeholders, RIM and the design team completed concept designs for the Kaho`olawe Island Reserve Commission's (KIRC) New Administration Building, located on the island of Maui. The designs were approved without requested changes by the Urban Design Review Board of Maui County, supported by the local Kihei Community Association, and are moving onto the final approvals from the Maui Planning Commission. 

To get more insight into how this design has come to life, we sat down with RIM’s lead designer Jonathan Sim, AIA NCARB and asked him a few questions:

What inspired the Team throughout the design process?

"The creative process developed from an understanding of the mission and function of KIRC and the connection the organization holds with the island of Kaho`olawe. A sacred island within the Native Hawaiian culture, the history of Kaho`olawe is a product of its many storied pasts [including ancient Hawaiian cultural practice, a men's penal colony, ranching, a U.S Navy training ground, and over 500 archaeological and historic sites]."

"The client and design team approached this design challenge by envisioning a building that respectfully reflects the Native Hawaiian Culture and celebrates Kaho`olawe’s unique regional significance. After researching and understanding more about Kaho`olawe’s myth*, the team was inspired to incorporate distinct cultural elements in the final concept design. These elements manifest as functional mechanisms, that are meaningfully incorporated into the design, rather than as simply ornamental features."  


*In ancient times Kaho`olawe was called Kanaloa, one of the four major akua (gods) of traditional Hawaiian religion. Kanaloa is associated with the ocean, long distance voyaging, and healing. Symbolized by the squid or the octopus, Kanaloa is connected with the eight Hawaiian Islands, the eight land divisions (`ili), and now the eight columns of the KIRC building design. 

"The eight west facing building columns represent a connection to the voyaging past. The building captures the distinctive silhouettes of the spar and boom, which were used to support the sails of the traditional Native Hawaiian voyaging canoes. Like their traditional functions on the voyaging canoes, the spar and boom components are utilized by the building as practical structural elements. The columns are unique to the design metaphor as they reinforce the strong symbolic references to KIRC and their mission to navigate the organization in a positive direction, which will determine Kaho`olawe’s future."

What was the most challenging aspect the Team had to design for?

"The challenge was to create a facility that authentically represents a meaningful contemporary cultural design representative of Kaho`olawe. Constant communication between the client and stakeholders enabled the team to embark on this iterative process in which participants became stewards of the design and gained a connection and investment in their facility."

What are you and the Team looking forward to as this project moves forward?

"Our team is looking forward to the positive impacts the facility will have on the community and the resulting relationships and communication that will emerge. Ultimately, the vision for the facility, which is designed to accommodate a variety of mixed-uses including: administrative, museum, educational and assembly functions, is aimed at reinforcing an inclusive environment to promote an exchange of cultural knowledge and awareness. Once built, the facility will be accessible to the public for cultural and environmental education as well as available for rent as a community meeting space." 

RIM was honored to work with the surrounding local community, KIRC organization, State agencies, and many other stakeholders to have had the opportunity to participate in the development of this culturally unique design.