The Oslo- and New York-based Snøhetta have unveiled their master plan for the historic Neal S. Blaisdell Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, a major arts and cultural venue on the island of Oahu. Conceived in collaboration with AECOM and local firm WCIT, the scheme encompasses renovations to the existing site and the addition of a new performance and exhibition hall, sports pavilion, and parking structure alongside a revisioning of the public space within the complex. Together, these changes emphasize a connection to water within the community and local landscape.

Originally constructed in 1964, the 22-acre Blaisdell Center served as a memorial for Hawaii’s veterans and war heroes until 2016, when the City of Honolulu undertook efforts to modernize the existing structures and update the site to meet the needs of the ever-growing city. The proposal is grounded in three core concepts: gathering community, celebrating culture, and, most crucially, the Hawaiian term ho‘okahe wai, meaning “activate water.”

Black and white photo of a boxlike performance venue with palm trees in foreground

Historic photo of the Neal S. Blaisdell Center. ( David Franzen/HABS photography)

The core addition to the new master plan is the combined 1,500-seat performance hall and exhibition hall, wrapped in a terra-cotta screen that borrows from the breeze block facades used across Honolulu and Waikiki. The combined facilities rest atop a shared, stratified basalt-clad base that opens to reveal an enveloping wood interior. That includes a performance space, a joint lobby with the exhibition hall, and interspersed outdoor lobbies that connect with the large terrace.

Drawing on the significant role water plays in Hawaiian culture, the structure’s lifted terraces and the subterranean service core allows for a series of filtering pools and waterfalls, a fountain, an extensive stormwater management system, and renovations to the existing fish pond to stitch the historic and contemporary aspects together. These water features and gardens are part of a “broader system that supports a variety of outdoor performance and recreation activities,” explained Snøhetta in a press release, with the central goal of creating unique communal public gathering spaces throughout the site.

An aerial site plan depicting a round arena, a sports hall, concert venue, and performance space

An aerial site plan of Snøhetta’s master plan. (Courtesy Snøhetta)

Also included in the proposal are refurbishments to the original Concert Hall—which currently houses the Honolulu Opera, Symphony Orchestra and more—to expand its seating capacity, as well as enclosing the existing open-air arcade of the scalloped arena in vertical louvers to form an interior space along the perimeter.

The Neal S. Blaisdell Center marks the Snøhetta’s first realized project in Hawaii, following their 2014 proposal for the Obama Presidential Center.

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