Pu'ukohola Heiau Visitor Center

project type

New Construction, Sustainable Design

year completed


Constructed by Kamehameha I for the God of War Kukailimoku, Pu'ukohola Heiau was officially declared a national historic site in 1972. For years visitors made to approach from the back, completely unaware of how impressive the structure truly was.

MASON was enlisted to design a new Visitor Center from which to view the heiau as part of a larger effort to restore the historic scene on the hillside adjacent to the heiau while being mindful not to disturb any nearby archeological sites.

In order to maximize views of the heiau and ocean while minimizing the Visitor Center’s own visibility, we integrated the low-profile structure into the dry, windswept environment. The resulting Visitor Center’s large exterior viewing area, protected from the elements by a broad sloping roof, presented the visitor with a dramatic view of the heiau. We also introduced open and enclosed spaces for audio/visual presentations, exhibits, sales and information, administrative offices and storage behind the viewing area. We utilized natural lighting and ventilation wherever feasible, and further conserved resources using cold-water faucets and waterless urinals. Our primary construction materials, including lava rock, rusticated concrete, glass and wood, effectively married the structure and its environment. We also kept grading and filling to a minimum.

Photo Credit: David Franzen

Visitor Center with the partially buried comfort station beyond

Project Details

  • The angle of the roof was determined to make it as invisible as possible from the most sacred spot on the heiau.
  • Its large exterior viewing area is protected from the sun, wind, and rain by a broad sloping roof and large roll-up doors over the openings.
  • Exhibits designed by Daniel Quon are integrated into the viewing area.
  • The adjacent comfort station, partially built into the hillside, is ventilated by a wind scoop and lighted by ventilating skylights; waterless urinals further conserve resources at the site.


AIA Honolulu Chapter

Peoples' Choice Award 2007


  • Project Programming and Space Planning
  • Building Design
  • Sustainable Design Applications and Consultation
  • Construction Documents and Administration
Left: The heiau is visible from the protected, but open, exhibits area; Right: Exhibits and paintings by Herb Kane are integrated into the sales area

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