Kamehameha Schools continues collaboration tradition with Yale University through Kapālama Kai design project

Apr. 19, 2023

The Kamehameha Schools (KS) Commercial Real Estate and Ho‘okahua Cultural Vibrancy groups recently hosted 15 graduate students and three professors from Yale School of Architecture to kick off a new collaboration between the two educational institutions.

“We steward ‘āina with an indigenous lens by prioritizing cultural history and knowledge so it was important to give these students a foundation of ‘ike and mo‘olelo to inform their studio project,” said Hilarie Alomar, KS planning and development director for Kapālama Kai.

This joint effort began in spring 2022 when the School of Architecture approached KS about using its Kapālama Kai Plan and vision as the focus for a Yale Advanced Design Studio course titled “Lessons from Hawai‘i: Space, Time, and Paradise,”. The course was taught by Dean Sakamoto, Yale faculty member and principal of Honolulu-based Dean Sakamoto Architects/SHADE, as well as Canadian architect Brigitte Shim, principal of Toronto-based Shim Sutcliffe Architects, and Hawai‘i-raised designer Talitha Liu. The course required students to conduct research and site analysis to prepare a complete set of measured drawings for a parcel of KS real estate in Kapālama Kai.

The field trip to O‘ahu provided the cohort of international students with an understanding of the place, and how history and culture inform KS’ plan to transform the area into a transit-oriented, mixed-use residential and commercial community.

“This is a great opportunity for our students to experience the reality of Hawai‘i that is quite different from the perception globally,” said Sakamoto. “A design of a place impacts everyone. It addresses real issues and problems in our environment, our culture and our economy. Bringing together Kamehameha Schools’ vision and mission of education and community development merges very well with Yale University and our architecture students.”

The goal is to expand these aspiring architects’ thinking and experience as they go on to shape and build other global cities as professionals. Sakamoto, who lives on O‘ahu and has family roots in Kapālama, felt it was essential to give students wisdom and guidance from KS and to offer insight into integrating history and culture into commercial and residential development—key priorities for KS’ Kapālama Kai Plan.

“This is what’s unique about Kamehameha Schools, and allows us to connect people to the place, its history, and traditions while guiding our actions to build resilient communities for our learners, as well as all kama‘āina,” said Alomar. And Deborah Berke, Dean and J.M. Hoppin Professor at the Yale School of Architecture, added: “Students have been so inspired by what they learned on their visit to Hawai'i. These lessons on stewardship and sustainability are already spreading beyond the design studio into other courses, and I’m sure this knowledge will also influence students’ built work after graduation."

This collaboration reconnects two historic institutions that share a few things in common. Kamehameha School for Boys’ first principal, Rev. William Brewster Oleson, and a teacher, Theodore Richards, penned the school song, “Sons of Hawai‘i” by adapting the tune from Yale’s “Wake, Freshman, Wake.” KS would later go on to don the Ivy League university’s blue and white school colors.

“The history between Kamehameha Schools and Yale adds to this unique opportunity to build pilina and share our culture with a broader audience,” Alomar said. “As we steward ‘Āina Pauahi and evaluate opportunities that support resilient communities, it is educational collaborations like this that we hope to create and foster through our lands.”