International, local design awards for planned Indigenous language campus at UH Hilo

The proposed ‘Ōlelo Hawaiʻi Campus project is envisioned to be a complete educational system to cultivate a legacy of language and learning.

Three architects work on model of campus.
Architects lower a rooftop onto building model for the planned ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i Campus to be located at UH Hilo. (Courtesy photo Karla Sierralta and Brian Strawn)

A collaborative project to develop the world’s most comprehensive Indigenous language campus at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo has received two architectural design awards. The designs for the ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i Campus project—a proposed preschool-through-doctorate educational system taught entirely in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i (Hawaiian language)—was recognized internationally with a 2023 Fast Company Innovation by Design Award (honoree), and locally with an Award of Excellence in American Institute of Architects (AIA) Honolulu‘s 65th Annual Design Awards.

The designs are a collaboration between teams from the UH Community Design Center of the UH Mānoa School of Architecture, the UH Hilo Office of the Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs and UH Hilo’s longstanding Hawaiian language consortium, known as the Hawai‘i ‘Imiloa Institute, comprised of Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language, ‘Imiloa, Ke Kula ‘o Nāwahīokalani‘ōpu‘u and ‘Aha Pūnana Leo. This multi-phase project highlights and aligns ceremonial protocol spaces for three new buildings of the proposed campus that will feature views of Hilo Bay and Maunakea.

Bonnie Irwin pictured
Bonnie Irwin

“What an exciting recognition for a critically important project that will position UH Hilo at the forefront of global Indigenous language revitalization and normalization,” says Bonnie D. Irwin, chancellor at UH Hilo. “There are so many units within the UH Hilo ‘ohana working to make this vision a reality and we appreciated the collaboration with UH Mānoa School of Architecture.”

Fast Company‘s Innovation by Design Awards is an international competition in its 12th year that recognizes projects that change the way people interact with the world around them. The ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i Campus design was honored in the Social Justice category, for solving the most crucial problems of today and anticipating the pressing issues of tomorrow.

The Award of Excellence is AIA Honolulu’s highest honor and recognizes projects that exemplify excellence of architectural design on all levels of analysis, and exemplify the highest standards to which AIA members aspire. The AIA Honolulu’s Annual Design Awards has been held annually since 1958. Honorees can be found in the September issue of Hawai‘i Business Magazine.

Model of building, open air with transparent roof.
Architectural model of a building, part of the award-winning design planned for the ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i Campus to be located at UH Hilo. (Courtesy photo Karla Sierralta and Brian Strawn)

The ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi Campus project

Kaiu Kimura
Ka‘iu Kimura

The proposed ‘Ōlelo Hawaiʻi Campus project is envisioned to be a complete educational system that will cultivate a legacy of language and learning. The ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i Campus represents UH Hilo’s commitment to renormalizing ‘ōlelo not just in Hilo, but throughout all of Hawai‘i, according to Ka‘iu Kimura, interim director of UH Hilo’s Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language and director of the university’s ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, who was also a member of the winning design team.

“Guided by a constellation of dedicated minds, including the visionaries at the Hawai‘i ʻImiloa Institute, we weave our heritage into the fabric of education,” Kimura says. “With each brick and beam, we echo the voices of generations past and empower the voices of generations yet to come. This recognition affirms our journey toward a future where our native languages thrive, our cultures soar and our people flourish.”

Ka‘iu Kimura speaks to group during design phase of the ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i Campus master plan. (Courtesy photo Karla Sierralta and Brian Strawn)

‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i Campus master plan

The master plan for the campus is organized around a series of physical alignments, responding to the nine cultural pathways of Nā Honua Mauli Ola for culturally healthy and responsive learning environments, developed by members of Hawai‘i ‘Imiloa. The project proposes the design of three buildings:

    • Pūnana Leo o Mōkaulele, a preschool, centered around all-weather play spaces and ‘ohana-oriented classrooms
    • Hale Kuamo‘o, a compact production facility supporting a teaching practice and the research-development-production-distribution cycle of technologies and resources for Hawaiian language education
    • Graduate Center and Mokuola Honua Global Center for Indigenous Language Excellence, located in a series of structures that minimally touch the site
An aerial rendering of the campus, circular perimeter with two buildings aligning with Hilo Bay and Maunakea.
Aerial rendering of the ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i Campus at UH Hilo. The master plan for the campus is organized around a series of physical alignments, responding to the nine cultural pathways of Nā Honua Mauli Ola for culturally healthy and responsive learning environments. (Courtesy photo Karla Sierralta and Brian Strawn)

The Hawai‘i ‘Imiloa Institute is a longstanding statewide consortium of schools and nonprofit organizations that supports a P-25 Hawaiian Indigenous Language Cycle that spans from preschool to doctorate. The success of this consortium of community leaders and educators has seen Hawai‘i become an aspirational model for similar Indigenous language programs across the nation and around the world.

The ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i Campus is a joint venture between multiple units at UH Hilo of the UH Community Design Center out of the UH Mānoa School of Architecture, UH Hilo Office of the Chancellor, Ku‘ikahi Consortium Partners (Ka Haka ‘Ula o Ke‘elikōlani, Ke Kula ‘o Nāwahīokalani‘ōpu‘u, ‘Aha Pūnana Leo, Hale Kuamo‘o, Mokuola Honua, ‘Imiloa) and the UH System Office of the Vice President of Administration.

Winning design team

The design team was led by Principal Investigators Brian Strawn and Karla Sierralta, associate professor at UH Mānoa School of Architecture, in collaboration with Keiki Kawai‘ae‘a, associate professor and UH Hilo interim vice chancellor for academic affairs, and Kimura, together with a team of student project assistants and research associates employed through the UH Community Design Center platform.

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