Redesign at UH Hilo’s Mookini Library and Library Lanai immerses students in nature

  • Walk through the Library Lanai and enter Mookini Library this semester and find new seating areas with furniture made from local woods, tables shaped like rivers, fabrics adorned with images of ‘ōhi‘a blossoms, and the aroma of fresh brewed coffee.
  • This is biophilic design, bringing the outdoors in and the indoors out, creating “a good place to think, it fosters thoughts and ideas at this university,” says Library Director Joseph Sanchez.

By Leah Sherwood. Photos by Raiatea Arcuri.

Student sits at table made of wood shaped like flowing wateer, looking out window to lanai and gardens.
New Library Lounge: As part of the redesign project at Mookini Library, a table made of local wood and shaped like moving water—a “river table,” whose surface has an asymmetrical gap down the length of the wood filled with dark stones—brings the outside in and promotes contemplative thought and study. Tables and chairs made from local woods are now found throughout the inside lounge area and also outside on the Library Lanai. Photos by Raiatea Arcuri, click to enlarge.

In his redesign of the Edwin H. Mookini Library at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, Joseph Sanchez, the library’s director, says he wanted to emulate the atmosphere of old-world libraries—the impression of intellectual seriousness, the large, old oak chairs, the lighting from low-hanging lamps, the sense of possibility conveyed by stacks of books—but with a distinct Hawaiian feel. And with coffee.

“We wanted to take the underlying concept of biophilic design to build a new space in the library for the UH Hilo community, and create a sense of awe and exploration,” explains Sanchez. The term biophilic is a reference to biophilia, a termed coined by ecologist E. O. Wilson, who argues that humans crave connections to nature and other life forms.

Students stand in line to get coffees.
People stand in line at the launch of the self-serve coffee kiosk located at the new Library Lounge, Mookini Library, Aug. 27, 2019.

Sanchez says he wants the redesign of the library to connect students to the outdoors.

“I want to bring the outdoors indoors, let students connect to natural spaces on Hawai‘i Island, and leverage the unique values of Hilo,” he explains.

In the new Library Lounge located in the lobby of Mookini Library, Sanchez points to a table made of wood but shaped like moving water—a “river table,” whose surface has an asymmetrical gap down the length of the wood filled with dark stones—and says he wants the overall design of the gathering place to create a sense of movement and energy. “You are sitting here with coffee, writing, and look out to a beautiful view of the campus. I want that inspiration. This is a good place to think, and it fosters thoughts and ideas at this university.”

Coffee kiosk

The new Starbucks On-The-Go self-serve specialty coffee kiosk, located in the lounge, provides additional inspiration to tired students. “Sodexo will be managing the new coffee machine,” explains Sanchez. “Coffee is available for purchase by using a credit card or student ID with meal plan funds.”

Joseph Sanchez stands in front of coffee makers and espresso machines.
Library Director Joseph Sanchez stands in front of the new coffee bar in the lobby of Mookini Library.

The coffee kiosk serves iced and hot espresso, latte, americano, cappuccino, chai latte, chocolate, and mocha specialty beverages, as well as three Starbucks roasting options (blonde, medium, and dark roast) for freshly brewed, single serve “bean to cup” coffee. The self-serve kiosk is open during library hours of operation.

The design concept

All of the new furniture inside and outside the library is built with wood from mango, robusta, and monkey pod trees, all of which are found on Hawai‘i Island.

Wall located in lobby of library with decorative ohia print.
Graphic designer Tanya Ibarra designed the beautiful wall wrap located in the library lobby. The design includes UH Hilo’s Mission Statement.

“Part of the redesign goal was to create the culture and the community,” Sanchez explains. This includes everything down to the couch cushions; Tanya Ibarra, a graphic designer at UH Hilo Graphics Services designed the fabric incorporating ‘ōhi‘a blooms and the UH Hilo mission, ‘A‘ohe pau ka ‘ike i ka hālau ho‘okahi (One learns from many sources). She also designed a beautiful wall wrap design incorporating the university’s Mission Statement:

The purpose of our university ‘ohana (family) is to challenge students to reach their highest level of academic achievement by inspiring learning, discovery and creativity inside and outside the classroom. Our kuleana (responsibility) is to improve the quality of life of the people of Hawai‘i, the Pacific region and the world.

“We wanted to create something that connects to the school,” says Sanchez.

Fabric incorporating ‘ōhi‘a blooms and the ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i phrase, ʻAʻohe pau ka ʻike i ka hālau hoʻokahi (One learns from many sources). Plus the Mission Statement: The purpose of our university ʻohana (family) is to challenge students to reach their highest level of academic achievement by inspiring learning, discovery and creativity inside and outside the classroom. Our kuleana (responsibility) is to improve the quality of life of the people of Hawaiʻi, the Pacific region and the world.
A close-up of the wall wrap that hangs on a large free-standing wall in the library’s lobby. The design, created by UH Hilo graphic designer Tanya Ibarra, shows UH Hilo’s Mission Statement overlaid on print of ‘ōhi‘a blossoms.

New resources for everyone’s creative capacity 

Communities have always relied on their local libraries for access and to feel connected, and Sanchez wants to bring this ethos to Mookini Library. “Libraries are about access, about discovery,” he says. “We wanted to open everything up. Rather than asking ‘What are the limits?’ we wanted to ask ‘What are the possibilities? What can I check out?’”

As students return from summer break, they will find a host of new items to borrow from the library.

“We are revamping the library to include a lot of creative media production, all the software to do pre- and post-production work, cameras, tripods, and microphones,” says Sanchez. “There will be five GoPro cameras, 10 digital single-lens reflex cameras, and 17 Macs located in the first floor computer lab.”

In an effort to promote art, music, and Hawaiiana at the library, Sanchez (with help from a local sponsor) plans to bring in six regional bands for Saturday concerts at the library.

Library card holders interested in learning the ukulele can now borrow one from the library for a one-week loan. This also assists students enrolled in music classes who lack the funds to purchase their own instruments.

The library is working with the UH Hilo art department to host a class on digital media (Art 102).

Sanchez also is developing an image content archive, important for those on campus wanting to use images without navigating complex copyright restrictions. “Anybody can use, whether you are a student, faculty, or staff,” says Sanchez, adding that people are welcome to contribute to the archive as well. “Want to take pictures? Going snorkeling? Going swimming? Come grab a GroPro!”

At the end of the day, for Sanchez, the draw of libraries, books, and ideas is the start to an unknown journey. “I want the students to feel welcome, I want them to feel a sense of creative capacity, of possibilities,” he says. “It is really about literacy. You open a book and the book opens the world to you.”

New design concept extends to the Library Lanai

Students at beautiful wooden tables on the Library Lanai, with gardens in the background.
The new renovations at Mookini Library extend to include new tables and chairs on the Library Lanai. Here in these four photos, students pause between classes at the new seating areas.

Students at tables on open lanai, greenery and trees in background.


Story by Leah Sherwood, a graduate student in the tropical conservation biology and environmental science program at UH Hilo. She received her bachelor of science in biology and bachelor of arts in English from Boise State University. 

Photos by Raiatea Arcuri, a professional photographer majoring in business administration with a concentration in finance at UH Hilo.  

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