Building Authenticity in the Landscape


Inspired by the existing modernist façade, the new courtyard at IBM Victoria Ward tower showcases a landscape expression of modern Hawaiian architectural motifs and powerful cultural history. The  historic IBM tower was designed by Vladimir Ossipoff—Hawaii’s quintessential modernist. The new landscape is a distilled expression of Hawaiian identity and serves as an introduction to a larger mixed-use master plan of over 60 acres in central Honolulu.

7 thoughts on “Building Authenticity in the Landscape

  1. What a wonderful talk! I really enjoyed the stories and the translation of the stories into built form. I like the comment that designers are “not just fixing problems”. We also get the opportunity to bring out deeper cultural, social, and historical nuances in projects. It’s great to see that both complex designs like the water fountain and subtle material changes on the plaza both have such huge effects on the space. If only Ossipoff could see what Surface Design has done for his project!

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  2. I really appreciated how James and his team began with building a strong foundation for their concept but admitting it did not come from their team, rather it came from the stories told by the marginalized communities surrounding the site. James and his team were only revealing those buried stories. As the people, place, and culture spoke to James and his team, they took the time to listen and synthesize all that information, which was then translated into a strong narrative that embodied the culture of that specific place. It was rather amazing how by listening, synthesizing, and deriving the concept from the place, they were able to create a flexible, comforting, and activated space. As the story drew on, I began to realize the same methods can be translated for urban centers with butting agencies, non-profits, and other organizations that all want a certain thing to happen at a particular site. Although it would be easy to listen and begin to negotiate for all parties, one might lose sense of place. It is our job as landscape architects to not only listen to their desires but to decipher what lies beyond that. How can you distill the wealth of information given to you and at the same heighten the poetry of place-making? James and his team were able to capture this through pushing the boundaries and asking why? And this constant questioning does not stop with the communities or clients, it also applies to the entire design team, including engineers, architects, and others. By constantly pushing the fold, good design is allowed to develop and no longer are we running through an unquestioned routine. I could not help but get excited about their design process as it break those barriers that many might succumb to in search for a common language across all fields of design and construction. It is not just about fixing problems. It is about expressing the theater place-making.

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  3. The talk today was very impressive because of the insightful story from concept to construction. James frequently mentioned that, as designer, we need to understand the community and know where their origins and their culture. He also mentioned that public engagement is critical in understanding the place which helps designers form the concepts that are transferable to physical elements. It is exciting to see that the plaza is currently used by the community for variety of activities, Sunday brunch, yoga, movie night, and ice skating, instead of being just a beautiful landscape devoid of people.

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  4. What most impressed me about James’ presentation–and the IBM Victoria Ward site—was the incredible attention to detail he and his team put into the project. From engaging in an almost anthropological preliminary research approach to finding the most ideal way to stitch together paving, the site undoubtedly built into something special for both the firm and the public. I especially liked how they reflected the design of the building’s façade onto the surfaces and fountain below; for the visitor, it must be a truly unique experience to feel immersed in the pattern… or to come across the delightful moment of recognizing the pattern everywhere.

    In addition, I really appreciated his statement on how his firm is “not afraid of design.” It can sometimes feel as though we need to let either natural processes or functionality simply take over the creation of our public realm. Yet, nuanced and inspired design can elevate our experience of place, and not simply relegate it to a sort of hidden canvas we walk upon and through.

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  5. What stood out to me most about this presentation was the fact that SurfaceDesign went beyond the immediate client and their needs and thought of the greater community. Their design sought to embody the specific island culture and tried to anticipate the ways that the space could be utilized, and because of that conscious effort it has exceeded their expectations and is recognized and used in ways that they could not have anticipated.

    It is a balancing act to try and embody the culture and lore of a region, to do so in a way that is subtle yet recognizable, tasteful and not cheesy. My initial impression of the courtyard and fountain was that it was novel and beautiful, and as the story was told and the layers were peeled back did I truly appreciate how they had taken in the communities’ words and created something that echoed back what they had heard.

    I am currently working on a project along the lower Colorado River that seeks to replicate what James and his firm has done, to try an navigate the history and politics of an indigenous people and create something that resonates their history in way that they can be proud of it. This is especially difficult when the people are displaced and marganlized. How do you represent their culture in the landscape, especially when it is the land (and water) that their culture is rooted in?

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  6. It is really amazing to see a design that really cares about the local community, as James said at the end of the lecture, it is important “to create mothing the local people can relate to”. I am especially amazing by the phrase “symbiotic” that James used. The symbiotic relationship between man and nature should be maintained through a design that not only create beautiful spaces but really ties the community, the nature, and the built environment together. James and his team really paid attention to the local people. Other than taking the history of the local land, community, tribes, and culture, they also listened to the local people and is able to create a vibrant and lively space for them. It is also really nice to see how people actually used the designed space, such as brunches, yoga, cultural dances, movies, and etc. James and his team did not end the process after the design is built, they also cared so much about how the design is being use!

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  7. James’s talk about the IBM Victoria site was thrilling because of a colossal amount of work that was put into it. The project was remarkably detailed and the amount of research done while designing it is very inspiring.
    It’s amazing how this design was complete so that it would reflect communities desires and needs and would truly show their culture. It is just incredible to see designers actually be so responsive to their clients and go above and beyond about everything, it is not often that you witness someone caring so much for the work that they have done and what is more fascinating is that the community itself saw all the hard work that was put into the project and used the created space to the fullest which I’m sure made James and the firm unbelievably happy and pleased.


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