Of all the American state capitols, the only one in the modernist style is that of Hawaii, which was admitted as a state in 1959. The 1962 P/A Awards jurors recognized the proposed new capitol as a milestone for Modernism, while expressing reservations about its design—hence only a citation. Their chief objection, as confirmed functionalists, was that its monumental columns support only the projecting portions of the upper floor, with no indication of what holds up the bulk of the building.
The capitol’s design says a lot about the adaptation of the modernist aesthetic to iconic public buildings. It was the product of the joint venture of John Carl Warnecke & Associates, then a very prominent mainland firm, with Belt, Lemmon & Lo, a well-established island firm. The building displays an unlikely hybrid of early 1960s architectural inspirations. Its peristyle of columns with swoopy contours resembles those in contemporaneous works by Oscar Niemeyer, Philip Johnson, and Minoru Yamasaki. This updated Neoclassicism is conjoined here with the design device of a projecting upper story, made popular by Le Corbusier’s La Tourette monastery of 1957–1960.
But the design does not ignore its Honolulu context. The distinctive Hawaiian geography is recognized in the shaded central court, in the reflecting pool that occupies most of the building’s ground level, and in the volcano-inspired volumes of the legislative chambers that rise from these waters. While some of its signature design motifs would quickly become dated, the building has served as an effective symbol of Hawaii’s statehood.
1962 P/A Awards Jury
G. Holmes Perkins
Henry A. Pfisterer