YWCA of O’ahu at Laniakea

Project Size:
17,300 SF
Franzen Photography, Ferraro Choi

“Our members and guests love how they feel when entering and using (Elizabeth) Fuller Hall and comment on many of the details that make it so special…..we have already far exceeded our revenue projections for Fuller Hall through just word-of-mouth.” – Cheryl L. Ka’uhane Lupenui, President and Chief Executive Officer, YWCA of O’ahu


Background and Project Purpose:

Located at 1040 Richards Street in Honolulu’s Historic Capitol District, Laniākea is the flagship facility of the YWCA of O’ahu and is listed on both the National and State Historic Registers. Designed by noted architect Julia Morgan and completed in 1927, it was the first reinforced concrete building in Hawaii, and the only YWCA designed by Morgan still in use as a YWCA. For many years the facility has been in need of repair and renovation to better serve and maintain ongoing YWCA programs and services.

A capital campaign entitled “The Power to Change” has been in progress to revitalize Laniākea to ensure that it will be able to continue and better fulfill its mission in Hawaii as a Women’s Leadership Center. A master plan for the revitalization effort was developed and the first phase of renovation identified in the master plan is now complete. Totalling approximately 8,300 gross square feet plus 3,500 square feet of support space, renovated areas include Elizabeth Fuller Hall, the Cafeteria, and the Cafeteria Kitchen.


Elizabeth Fuller Hall:

Original Use: With a fixed stage, Elizabeth Fuller Hall was originally a large naturally ventilated open hall used for meetings and performances.

Condition before Renovation: Over the years, Elizabeth Fuller Hall had been crudely sub-divided and remodeled for smaller meetings, aerobics and dance classes. Previously added suspended acoustic ceilings, fluorescent lighting and overhead air conditioning concealed the original high interior volumes with its graceful concrete arched ceilings and architectural detail. The original wood flooring had been removed and replaced with a concrete topping and vinyl flooring. In the main Hall, the original wood floor was seriously damaged by termites and over time, most had been replaced with various other types of wood infill.

Renovation: Elizabeth Fuller Hall has been restored to its original volume and updated for conferencing and banqueting. The original concrete arched ceiling is now visible throughout. Fitted within the original structural bays, low-profile acoustic panels conceal power for new lighting and audio-visual systems while improving the acoustics required for modern audio visual presentations. Displacement air conditioning is provided through unobtrusive floor and wainscot grilles fed from the basement. New historically compatible ambient and decorative lighting provides for flexible use of the Hall in banqueting or conferencing configurations. All original louvered wood doors facing the pool have been replaced with new true-to-the-original details. Double-paned windows, in the module of the original screened openings, control noise and heat gain from the exterior. Existing obscure wire-glass windows on the alleyway, which did not contribute light or ventilation, were sandwiched between new wall construction rather than removed to preserve the original windows and frames and historical integrity of the building. A new concrete floor is overlaid with contemporary carpeting appropriate to the room’s use. A new concrete floor was created for the entry vestibule into Elizabeth Fuller Hall, which matches the aggregate mix, texture and pattern of the original concrete floor still existing throughout the building.


The Cafeteria:

Original Use: The Cafeteria, formerly known as the Cafe Laniakea, was a naturally ventilated dining room, which originally served the YWCA membership but was later opened up to serve the general public.

Condition before Renovation: Multiple layers of vinyl, ceramic tile and slate flooring had been installed over the original concrete floor. A wooden platform had been built in the center of the room. Architectural ceiling and wall ornaments had begun to deteriorate from exposure to the elements. Exterior ornamental architectural screens in window openings were rusted and dilapidated. Although a popular lunch venue, the dining room was dark and unpleasant.

Renovation: Original concrete vaulted ceilings have been refurbished and include low profile paneling neatly fitted between the existing structural bays to conceal power for new lighting and ceiling fans. The original concrete flooring, found under layers of other flooring, was restored. The ornamental architectural screens and doors were refurbished where possible and replaced with historically-accurate new screens where necessary. Hand-blown decorative light fixtures, reminiscent of original fixtures used elsewhere in the building have been installed. New casework with historic detailing supports service and sales functions.



Original Use: Full service kitchen serving the YWCA membership and providing an educational training kitchen for the YWCA culinary program

Condition before Renovation: The kitchen had suffered from years of use without rigorous maintenance or any upgrades in equipment. Multiple floor and wall finishes had worn off and temporary partitions had chopped the kitchen into a rabbit-warren of less-functional spaces. Old equipment was expending excessive energy without providing full service. The overall kitchen environment was not conducive to effective culinary operations or teaching.

Renovation: The renovation included complete replacement and modernization of all kitchen equipment, services, finishes and life safety systems to bring the kitchen into compliance with current codes, and expand its capacity to service the dining room, Elizabeth Fuller Hall, and potential future banquet areas on the second floor.


Challenges and Innovation:

The challenges facing this project were numerous. The following deserve special comment:

1. New Cabling for a Massive Structure: Laniākea was the first reinforced concrete structure in Hawaii and was originally designed as a naturally ventilated facility with minimal electrical provisions. The massive nature of the concrete floors, walls and superstructure, and the extensive use of steel reinforcing posed numerous challenges for coring and running new power and telecommunications cabling. To conceal new power and cabling without disturbing the historic architecture, new floor outlets were routed through the basement and in low-profile ceiling paneling fitted within the existing structural bays.

2. Detail Restoration: Interim renovations and general lack of maintenance throughout the years prior to this revitalization project resulted in damage or destruction of some of the historic details. Details that did survive were covered under multiple layers of paint. As a part of the restoration, molds were taken of the surviving details, such as the concrete or plaster rosettes in Elizabeth Fuller Hall and the Dining Room, and replacements were cast to identically match the originals. Through careful paint analysis, the original color palette of much of the metal and wood work was determined and re-instituted in the renovation.

3. New Air Conditioning Without Being Obtrusive: To air condition Elizabeth Fuller Hall while maintaining the beauty of Julia Morgan’s decorative arched concrete ceilings, conventional top-down air conditioning was not feasible. Instead, a new displacement air conditioning system was introduced, which unobtrusively delivers cool air from inconspicuous floor and wainscot grilles that are fed from the basement. As a part of this air conditioning scheme, a heat recovery system was added to capture the heat produced by the chillers to produce hot water required for the Fitness Center showers and kitchen. The new heat recovery system also helps to offset future energy costs from the anticipated higher building usage.

4. Improved Accessibility: The Ewa Wing of Laniakea had no handicap access to the basement, which was home to the ceramics studio as well as storage and mechanical spaces. A three-stop elevator was introduced between Elizabeth Fuller Hall and kitchen, which allows public access to all floors and accommodates the movement of food and conferencing furniture through the building.

5. Tight Spaces Made Construction a Challenge: Construction in confined spaces was a vexing challenge for the contractor, particularly for the installation of a new grease interceptor in the back alley (only 15 feet wide) and the installation of the new elevator. Because the basement was inaccessible to conventional digging equipment, excavation for the elevator pit was performed by hand.