Victorian in Appearance, Contemporary in Function: Hawaiian Hall

Bishop Museum's Hawaiian Hall Complex was built in three phases from 1888 to 1903 to house the collection of Hawaiian artifacts and royal heirlooms bequeathed to Charles Reed Bishop by his wife Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop. It is a rare extant example of late-Victorian museum design. Mason Architects' restoration challenge was to retain the historic integrity of the buildings yet bring them up to contemporary museum standards by resolving issues of climate control, lighting, access, and fire protection.

  • In the original design, a large skylight and double-hung windows provided all lighting and ventilation for the Hall. In 1968 electric lighting was installed, the skylight was blacked out, and the windows were removed or covered with wooden louvers. The Hall remained naturally ventilated, but the interior was too warm and humid, and the artifacts were prone to insect damage.
  • Climate control: Air conditioning equipment and fan coil units were installed in the Hall's large attic, but there was no room for ductwork at the lower levels. So 73 in-line fans were installed between the floor joists, and air is pulled through slots cut into the koa trim of the floor landings. Temperatures are now 70-72 degrees and the relative humidity under 55%.
  • Lighting: LED lights dimmed to 5 foot-candles illuminate the exhibit cases without exposing the artifacts to heat damage. Ambient light is further reduced to 2 foot-candles. The skylight has been opened and equipped with light filters that eliminate UV radiation.
  • Windows: All the double-hung windows were restored or replaced and are fully operational. Since screens or tints would not reduce light to an acceptable level, wood cabinets were installed on the inside of each window. From the outside, the windows appear as they did originally; from the inside, as recurring elements in the koa wood paneling.
  • Access: An "elevator court" was designed to accommodate a five-stop elevator and bridges connecting the upper floor levels. The elevator court encloses a former exterior courtyard with a roof and glass wall and provides space for demonstrations and entertainment.
  • Fire protection: Fire sprinklers are hidden in the wrought-iron grillwork.

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  • Award of Merit from the AIA, Honolulu Chapter, 2010.
  • Historic Preservation Honor Award from the Historic Hawai‘i Foundation, 2009

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Photography: Linney Morris

Hawaiian Hall after restoration to its 1903 appearance. After these photos were taken, koa panels were installed in the windows to shield the exhibits from sunlight.