Hawaii Architects Should Design with Human Element in Mind / by Brian Kossen

As a featured commentator in the March 18, 2007 edition of The Honolulu Star Bulletin, Matthew Goyke discusses being able to look to the past for direction as to how we proceed in the future, and suggests that we need to give up some ego to embrace what the community needs.


Matthew Goyke

MUCH has been written about what the late George Kanahele called "a Hawaiian sense of place." I hesitate to venture where others wiser than me about the ways of Hawaii have tread so carefully and with such respect. But I am prompted to join the discussion by recent reports citing comments by some of my colleagues in the architecture profession about whether the phrase has lost its meaning -- or morphed into 21 flavors.

The suggestion that "we need to expand the palette of what is acceptable in the definition of a Hawaii sense of place" (Pacific Business News, March 2) also made me think that perhaps the community of users and the architects who respond to their needs should take a step back in order to take a few steps forward.

IN STEPPING BACK, we are better able to look to the past for direction as to how we proceed in the future -- a lesson we learn from the Hawaiian perspective on time. In stepping back, I also suggest that we need to give up some ego to embrace what the community needs -- and respond to those needs. Architecture has often been seen in terms of the style-setting statements of its creators, rather than how well buildings serve their users. We cannot say the names of Frank Lloyd Wright or Frank Gehry or I.M. Pei without immediately conjuring up images of the imprint these architects left of their vision on the buildings they designed.

LIKE SO MANY others, I have learned much from the work of these great men and the example they set of bold, new standards in design. But the ongoing discussion about "a Hawaiian sense of place" and the pursuit of a "look" or "style" that generates this sense of place should make us ask if architecture should be less about this pursuit of a style and more about the people who visit, live, use or work in these spaces. It should be more about responding to the opportunities that the unique qualities of this place afford us as individuals and as a community. The longer I practice my profession and the more I learn from Hawaii, the more I am inclined to believe that architecture should perhaps be more about the users than the designers.

Putting the user first drives us, as architects, to ask better questions and provide more thoughtful answers. Great design emerges from being more attentive to what people do and how they do it in the buildings we design for them. It should be part of our mission as architects in this time, and in this wonderful place, to help people uncover and articulate their needs so that we can respond to them in ways that do not overpower the environment but rather optimize it for the benefit of all.

Matthew Goyke is the president and founder of Green Sand Inc., an architecture and design firm that focuses on creative design solutions and the environment. Goyke has been practicing architecture in Hawaii for 17 years.