Famous Hawaii Architects

From Charles William Dickey to Vladimir Ossipoff

One of Hawaii’s most prominent turn-of-the-century architects was Charles William Dickey (1871-1942), who was responsible for the design of many prominent Honolulu Buildings as well as structures throughout the Hawaiian Islands.

Dickey was known for his residential home designs allowing the culture of the people to assert itself. He consistently stressed the importance of interior courtyards, broad lanais, fountains and other features appropriate to the climate and culture.

“Hawaiian architecture is a type distinctive to itself and Mediterranean styles must be adapted to fit local conditions before they are at all suited to the islands.”
-William Charles Dickey

A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dickey was the grandson of William P. Alexander, who was one of the early missionaries who came to the Hawawiian Islands.

In 1896, Dickey worked with C. B. Ripley, another renown Hawaii architect, to design the Bishop Estate Building on Merchant Street. That structure was built in the Romanesque Revival Style using blue stone.

Dickey worked with C.B. Ripley in 1896 to design the Irwin Block Building (Nippu Jiji Building) at Nuuanu Avenue in Honolulu’s Chinatown. The Irwin Block Building was constructed in the Richardsonian Romanesque Style with a rough-hewn volcanic stone and brick exterior.

In 1901, Dickey designed the 6-story Stangenwald Building on Merchant Street in Honolulu. For the next 50 years this Italianate structure was the tallest structure in Hawaii. The Stangenwald Building is notable for its terra cotta ornamentation, arched windows, wrought-iron balustrade, pressed-copper trim, and Hawaii’s first electric elevator.

Beneath the Stangenwald Building’s Italian Renaissance elements is a structure of concrete and brick, with a steel frame. The use of these materials was in response to the Chinatown fire which burned for 17 days in 1900.

Dickey was known for features that allowed air to circulate freely and projecting eaves that would keep rain out even if the windows are open.

With Hart Wood (1880-1957), Dickey designed Honolulu Hale at South King and Punchbowl Streets to serve as Honolulu’s City Hall. Featuring ceiling frescoes, pillars and arches, a tiled roof and decorative balconies, Honolulu Hale was modeled after the Bargello Palace built in Florence Italy in the 13th century.

Hart Wood went on to become one of Hawaii’s most renowned architects. After working with architecture firms in San Francisco, Wood began working as Dickey’s chief designer and later became his partner to design many prominent Hawaii buildings.

Another structure designed by both Dickey and Wood was the Alexander & Baldwin Building, built in 1929 on Bishop Street. The structure is noted for its mosaic murals and recessed entry.

In 1934 Dickey designed Honolulu’s Central Fire Station on Beretania Street in Honolulu with engineer John Young. This two-story Moderne Style building featured elements of Art Deco.

Wood was also the architect of the Gump Building in 1929 on Lewers and Kalakaua Streets in Waikiki. This building was constructed to hold the Gump art collection.

Looking ahead to the modern times, one of the most prominent architects in Hawaii today is Vladimir Ossipoff. Having designed many Hawaii homes and buildings, Ossipoff is now known as “the master of Hawaii modern architecture” and he is also called the “dean of residential architecture in Hawaii.”

After growing up in Tokyo as the son of a military attache of the Russian embassy, Ossipoff emigrated to the U.S. in 1923. In 1931 he graduated from U.C. Berkeley and then began what he has termed a “war on ugliness.”

Ossipoff was named as a Fellow in the American Institute of Architects in 1956, and was also awarded the Hawaii chapter’s first Medal of Honor. A retrospective of Ossipoff’s work, entitled “Hawaii Modern,” was presented at the Honolulu Academy of Arts in 2007-2008.