The Hawaii State Capitol is part of the Hawaii Capital Historic District, which has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978.
The Hawaii State Capitol building was built to replace the former statehouse, Iolani Palace, and to house the offices of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, offices of state legislators, and the chambers of the state House and Senate. The location of the Capitol was selected in 1944. In 1959, the governor appointed a State Capitol Architects Advisory Committee, co-chaired by Robert Midkiff of the Hawaiian Trust Co., Ltd. and Representative George M. Koga, and composed of Hawaiian citizens and critics including Pietro Belluschi. The committee selected the Honolulu firm of Belt, Lemmon & Lo and the San Francisco firm of John Carl Warnecke & Associates to design the new state capitol. The building was designed in 1960 and approved by the Legislature in 1961. The original estimated cost of the building was $24 million. However, the public was displeased by this large price tag, so the estimated cost was lowered to $14,500,000. Construction commenced in November 1965 and was completed on March 15, 1969.
The Hawaii State Capitol is a five-story building with an open central courtyard. According to the architects, “The center of the building, surrounded by a ring of columns, is a great entrance well open on all sides at ground level and reaching upward through four floors of open galleries to the crown canopy and the open sky. Visitors can walk directly into the spectators’ galleries overlooking the House and Senate chambers situated at ground level, and they can reach any of the upper floors by elevators.” Caucus rooms, clerks’ and attorneys’ offices, a library, a public hearing room, and suites for the President and Speaker of the House and their staffs are at the level of the chamber floors. The two legislative office floors are of similar design, with peripheral offices for the legislators. On the fourth floor are key staff agencies and the offices of the Governor and Attorney General, as well as space for the Legislative Council. The suites for the Governor and Lieutenant Governor are on the uppermost floors, overlooking the sea on the outside and the courtyard on the inside. Public circulation on the upper floors is through lanais that overlook the court. Parking is provided in the basement.
The building is constructed of reinforced concrete and was designed to resist earthquake forces. A ring of twenty-four exposed concrete columns rise from the reflecting pool to a height of about 60’ to support the actual roof—the fourth floor—which cantilevers out from the flat vaults at the tops of the columns.
The Capitol is located downtown, in close proximity to other municipal buildings. From 1959-68, Iolani Palace (built in 1882 as a residence for Hawaiian royalty) served as Hawaii’s first State Capitol, housing the legislature and Governor’s office. The new State Capitol replaced Iolani Palace in 1969, while Iolani Palace was restored and reopened as a museum. The new Capitol building was constructed within the 24-acre park that already contained the Palace and other historic buildings. The original plan consisted of a series of open spaces connected by tree-lined streets and terminated at both ends by pedestrian malls. The civic center would run from the mountains to the sea, which is an ancient Hawaiian tradition for land division.
The technical innovation of the Hawaii State Capitol is the architects’ optical illusion: the fourth floor of the building seems to impossibly hover upon slender, elegant columns. When looking under the building’s peristyle, the structural support is found: each column supports a flat vault, which in turns, bears the expansive fourth floor.
The interior surfaces of the building are generally finished with indigenous materials, such as obia and koa, native hardwoods.
The building is distinctive for its openness, a quality which reflects the open character of Hawaiian society. The great central courtyard, which is open on two sides to the park that surrounds the building, recognizes the fluid relationship between the Hawaiian people and their legislators. From the court, the public has access to the legislative chambers, entering the spectator galleries for both houses at court level. It also has access to the upper floors by stair and elevator.
The Hawaii State Capitol was designed to reflect the historical and cultural significance, as well as the natural beauty, of the Hawaiian Islands. The number eight has been incorporated into the building as a metaphor of the eight major Hawaiian Islands. There are eight columns in the front and back of the building, groups of eight columns on the balcony surrounding the fourth floor, and eight panels on the doors leading to the Governor’s and Lieutenant Governor’s chambers. The Capitol is also surrounded by water as a symbol of the Pacific Ocean, and the columns that rise from the reflecting pools are representative of palm trees. The curved, sloping walls of the House and Senate chambers were inspired by the volcanoes from which the islands were created. The building was also constructed in an open-air design, with open entryways and an open courtyard containing a glass mosaic floor mural called “Aquarius,” designed by Tadashi Sato and representing the movement of dappled light and underwater formations in shades of blue and green. Replicas of the State Seal hang from the Capitol’s entrances. A statue of Father Damien, a Catholic priest who died in 1888 after sixteen years of serving Hawaiian patients afflicted with leprosy, also stands prominently on the grounds.
The Hawaii State Capitol was built to replace the former statehouse, Iolani Palace, and to house the offices of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, offices of state legislators, and the chambers of the state House and Senate. The building, along with Iolani Palace and other historic sites in the area comprise the Hawaii Capital Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The design of the Hawaii State Capitol building was enthusiastically approved by the Governor and legislators in 1961. It reflects and symbolizes the cuThe Hawaii State Capitol along with Iolani Palace and other historic sites in the area comprise the Hawaii Capital Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The design of the Hawaii State Capitol building was enthusiastically approved by the Governor and legislators in 1961. The critics on the Capitol Architects Advisory Committee said that it was, “the visual image of a building symbolic of the State of Hawaii…[it has] dignity and poetry without ostentation.” It reflects and symbolizes the culture and natural beauty of Hawaii, and it complements the historic buildings to create a rich and varied civic center.
As a functioning government building, the Hawaii State Capitol building is well-maintained. It is also part of the Capital Historic District, and therefore, protected and preserved under the supervision of the Historic Preservation Division of the State Department of Land and Natural Resources.
“A New Capitol for the Newest State.” Architectural Record (June 1961): 153-154.
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“‘Capitol’ need not be synonymous with ‘dome.’” Architectural Record (May 1969).
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