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Local architect Daniel Chun on his 40-plus years of contributions to Hawaiʻi buildings and laws

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Courtesy American Institute of Architects Hawaii
Architect Daniel Chun

If you look around at the buildings across Hawaiʻi, there’s a good chance that local architect Daniel Chun had a hand in their construction.

Chun and his partner Dwight Kauahikaua started their firm in 1981. Since then, they've designed recognizable structures like the Stan Sheriff Center at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, the Kulana Oiwi Molokaʻi Education Center, and the Liliʻuokalani Trust’s Children's Center on Kauaʻi.

ElChibo808/Wikimedia Commons
Stan Sheriff Center during the 2011 Hawaiʻi-USC Volleyball Match

But you may not know that Chun also had a role in things you don’t see, like enacting laws requiring green building standards for state buildings, funding for art in public places, and mandatory continuing education for architects.

He served as a legislative advocate for architecture and interior design under the past five governors, according to the American Institute of Architects Hawaiʻi.

Before he started studying architecture, Chun said he always had an interest in drawing.

"Architecture is an intersection of art, history and performing art. So I think that really attracted me to kind of like synthesize those sorts of things," Chun told The Conversation. "Unlike some parts of art, it's a very permanent kind of art. It's kind of frozen there because it's been built in concrete and wood and other permanent materials."

In his senior year at Punahou School, an English teacher asked him what he would study in college, to which he replied — architecture.

"And he said to me, 'That's a wonderful way to spend a lifetime.' And I've never forgotten what he said to me," Chun said.

When asked which Hawaiʻi building is his favorite, he said most architects would rank the Honolulu Museum of Art at, or near, the top of the list.

"Even though I'd say it's my favorite, I think the work of my firm has gone beyond that," Chun said. "Although those are great historic examples, I think that the approach that we started to take in our office — using building materials, motifs, place names, Hawaiian personalities as the inspiration for the design — that can open the way to have a broader Hawaiian cultural expression in a larger number of buildings."

For his decades of contributions to Hawaiʻi, Chun was awarded the American Institute of Architects Hawaiʻi Medal of Honor on March 5 at a celebration at the Hawaiʻi State Art Museum. It’s the highest honor an architect can receive.

This interview aired on The Conversation on March 3, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Russell Subiono is the executive producer of The Conversation. Born in Honolulu and raised on Hawaiʻi Island, he’s spent the last decade working in local film, television and radio. Contact him at
Sophia McCullough is a digital news producer. Contact her at
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