A modern concrete masterpiece
by Estee Manfredi | Jan. 6, 2021
In the 13 years that I’ve worked inside Hawaiian Electric’s Ward Avenue offices, I’ve never really thought about the outside of the building. Until I got an email from Docomomo Hawaii.
Docomomo is the local chapter of a national architecture organization that “advances the understanding, preservation and documentation of the modern movement in the State of Hawaii in the areas of urban planning, architecture, architectural interiors, landscapes and public art.” Docomomo focuses on local areas that are considered to be historical resources in order to influence preservation and development.
Every year, the organization hosts an annual walking tour of local buildings of interest for their members. In 2020, the group’s theme was “The 70s turn 50” and 28 buildings were nominated, each built between 1970 and 1972. Members voted for the top five buildings they felt represent the variety of modern styles exhibited throughout the 70s.
Besides Hawaiian Electric’s Ward building, the other buildings chosen are: Hawaii Hochi, Hawaii Loa College (now known as Hawaii Pacific University’s Hawaii Loa Campus), Marco Polo Apartments, and Hawaii Government Employees Association.
In 2020, Docomomo held a virtual tour instead of a walking tour and short documentary films were made for each of the buildings. The film on the Ward building features an interview with Stephen Au, the architect who designed the building, and nostalgically captures his inspiration behind the building, the location, and the monumental concrete design.
The film focuses on the 1971 remodel, but the original Ward Avenue building was first completed in 1947. At that time, the three-story building with a basement was constructed to house the Engineering, Distribution, Construction, General Service and sales personnel of the Wholesale Supply Department. It was 64,293 square feet and was completed at a cost of $920,000.
The fourth floor was built and changes to the first and second floors were made in 1964, with the basement expanded a year later to accommodate the meter reader department.
In 1969, the company started a $6 million renovation to create a new multi-purpose building with a warehouse, three-deck parking garage, meeting rooms, a cafeteria, and space for the Data Processing Center, Health Center and Safety Office. The modern warehouse was completed in 1971 and that same year, the central stores warehouse won an Excellence In-Design award, ranking first in the Industrial Classification of an American Institute of Architects competition.
Comparing the Ward building to other buildings around the island makes me look at it in a different light. Who knew I was working in a modern concrete masterpiece!
Estee Manfredi is a corporate librarian at Hawaiian Electric.