Honolulu, Hawaii

2006 Honolulu AIA Award, 2006 Mayor’s Choice Award


Project Scope and History:
Originally designed by New York architect Bertram Goodhue, the Honolulu Academy of Arts opened its doors in April of 1927.  Since its inception, the Academy has been recognized as a major architectural and cultural asset of Honolulu.

For seventy years, the Academy’s galleries were naturally ventilated and lighted by a combination of electric fixtures and daylight.  Although these conditions were acceptable in the past, they increasingly limited the Academy’s ability to obtain, exhibit, and protect collections that required a higher standard of care. 

From 1998 through 2006, extensive renovations and reinstallations of all of the original historic galleries and galleries in the more recent Education Wing were undertaken to provide air conditioning, proper lighting, and environmental controls in accordance with state-of-the-art museum industry criteria.  The final leg of this renovation was completed in November of 2005.

The renovation design placed a primary emphasis on restoring, refurbishing, and celebrating the museum’s historic architecture, much of which had been altered by less sensitive “modernizations” in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Another priority was placed upon meeting current accessibility standards.


Program Requirements:
The program for the renovation and reinstallation of the historic Honolulu Academy of Arts can be summarized as follows:

  • To provide for environmental control and proper lighting for the display of a variety of art collections, in accordance with national and international industry standards
  • To maintain, renovate, restore, and celebrate the Academy’s original historic architecture
  • To provide accessibility for the disabled in accordance with current standards
  • To establish consistent lighting and display case standards for all galleries
  • To plan, design, and renovate with minimum disruption to adjacent, ongoing museum operations.
  • To establish and meet constraints of time and budget
  • Extent of renovation to include:
    • Refurbish exterior doors and windows
    • New wood flooring
    • New ceilings and wall finish
    • Air conditioning with temperature and humidity control meeting industry standards for museum design, all concealed in attic space
    • Historic cove, cornice, and base moldings
    • New casework
    • Track lighting and dimmer system
    • Automatic fire extinguishing system in combustible attic spaces
    • Leak detection system
    • Fire alarm system
    • Intrusion detection system
Design Concept.
The underlying design objective of the renovation and reinstallation of the Honolulu Academy of Arts was to provide a state-of-the-art controlled environment for the display of art while restoring, extending, and celebrating the architectural character of a recognized historic landmark facility in Honolulu.


What makes this project so special is the way it has unobtrusively achieved needed modern environmental controls while recapturing and strengthening the historic architectural character of the Academy.  Key architectural design elements include:

  • New lighting: Designed to highlight and feature each piece of artwork, the new lighting is a significant improvement over the more generic lighting of the pre-renovated galleries.
  • Restoration of historic spatial volumes:  Non-historic dropped ceilings were removed and replaced with new ceilings that restored the original, more voluminous ceiling heights.
  • Historic moldings and features: The Academy’s original moldings and features were retained and extended to new casework, chair rails, cased openings, etc.  Ornamental air vents were used as a design motif for openings in free-standing partitions.
  • New environmental systems: New environmental systems (HVAC, re-heat, sprinklers, leak detection, etc.) are concealed in attic spaces and sound-protected from gallery spaces.
  • Historic exterior window details: Where windows have been closed off to prevent daylight intrusion on the gallery interior, the exterior window details remain in place to maintain the historic exterior.   
The extensive renovation and reinstallation of the entire historic portion of the Honolulu Academy of Arts galleries involved a series of complex and detailed projects stretching over eight years and encompassing over 17,000 square feet of gallery space.  Today, the renovated galleries are used to exhibit unique collections of Asian, Korean, Japanese, Indonesian, Southeast Asian, Philippine, Indian, Western, and Islamic art.