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AIA COTE 2017 Top Ten Winner: NOAA Inouye Regional Center


Located on a national historic landmark site in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Inouye Regional Center features the adaptive reuse of two World War II-era airplane hangars linked by a new steel and glass building.

The hangars narrowly survived Japan’s December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Throughout the war (and into the early 1960s), the twin buildings would go on to serve as aircraft repair shops. By the turn of the century, however, the rusting hangars—no longer in use—had become one of many endangered artifacts on Pearl Harbor’s Ford Island.

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Enter the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In 2005 the agency purchased the twin buildings from the Navy for $1 and, with HOK and associate architect firm, Ferraro Choi & Associates, began exploring renovation possibilities. NOAA hoped to connect the two buildings and transform them into a single regional headquarters for 800 of its employees spread across 15 Oahu offices. Like NOAA itself, the headquarters would also be forward-thinking, integrating the agency’s mission of “science, service and stewardship” with Hawaii’s cultural traditions and ecology.

In April 2017, the American Institute of Architects confirmed that NOAA Inouye Regional Center had achieved that last goal when it named it one of the year’s 10 best examples of sustainable design as determined by AIA’s Committee on the Environment.

The following offers a detailed look at the design philosophy and innovation that led to the project’s AIA COTE win.



At first glance, the 75-year-old hangars didn’t appear to be the ideal foundation from which to create a sustainable, 21st-century headquarters. For years the buildings had largely sat abandoned—used primarily to store old cars.

“The most challenging aspect of the project was how to respect these two historical properties,” recalls Paul Woolford, design principal for HOK’s San Francisco office.

noaa-tl-article3Yet on further inspection, the buildings—designed in 1939 by noted architect Alfred Kahn—exhibited traits of sustainable design. So, too, did the surrounding nature of Oahu.

“The historic hangars inspired beautifully simple design solutions for how the center uses air, water and light,” says Woolford. “We looked to the local biological influences of the region—such as the cooling mechanism of the monkeypod tree—as a guide to designing the building systems. As the design team drew up plans for connecting the two buildings, it became clear that the scale of the 350,000-sq.-ft. project would present another challenge.

“We treated the design of the project like it was a university campus with quads,” says Kyle Prenzlow, senior project architect at HOK’s San Francisco practice. “The footprint of the building is three-and-a-half acres, so we really needed to look for strategies to make neighborhoods and break up such a large space, while making autonomous groups feel part of a whole.”

The center houses a range of critical programs, functions and federal departments, including the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. Facilities include wet and dry research laboratories, a marine center, a library, administrative offices, conference and meeting areas, a dining hall and informal collaboration spaces.

Connecting the front door of the campus with the waterfront, a three-story atrium knits together a sequence of materials and volumetric plane changes to give visitors a sense of progression as they move through the building. A series of interactive exhibits highlight the history of the island and region, as well as NOAA’s diverse mission.

Located at the northern end of the atrium, a large dining hall provides users with a panoramic view to the water and the mountain range in the distance. The two-story, fully glazed space maximizes transparency and creates a fluid visual experience. A 200-seat auditorium provides tiered seating for NOAA programs, while multiple conference rooms and flexible classrooms support collaborative activities.



The project team turned to nature for energy solutions for the building, drawing lessons from native plants, such as the monkeypod tree.

“It’s a single trunk tree that has a very dense top layer canopy and provides really good shade and thermal comfort during the hot humid days,” explains Zorana Bosnic, practice leader in HOK’s San Francisco office. “Then when it’s overcast and raining, the leaves curl up into a narrow, conic shape and allow the breezes and rain to reach the ground. The grass is literally greener under the monkey pod tree because it allows the rain to reach the soil.”

The trees also protect themselves from hot temperatures by pulling soil moisture through the vascular structure into the leaves. Moisture released as water vapor creates a cooling effect around the canopy.


Similarly, the hydronic system used at Inouye Regional Center pulls water from below the sea bed into roof coils. The prevailing sea breezes pass over these cool coils and enable natural ventilation that drops the cooled, fresh air supply into vertical “thermal chimneys” (passive downdraft) and through a displacement system of raised floors.

The building ventilates its public and private spaces using no mechanical fans and 100 percent outside air. The exhaust ventilation system is also 100 percent passive. Cool ventilation air is supplied to occupied spaces via a raised access floor utilizing ‘displacement’ principles. After being supplied at low levels, the air draws heat from occupants, equipment, lights, solar and, as its temperature rises, it becomes less dense and more buoyant, rising up through the building via interconnected light wells and atria before being exhausted to atmosphere.

“This is the first building I’ve worked on where we were not really worried about the temperature difference between inside and outside,” adds HOK’s Prenzlow. “We wanted to blur the line between the outside, which is so comfortable, and the inside of the building by bringing the natural environment into the building and vice versa.”



The design goal for water was to replicate the natural processes of the Hawaiian environment and local landscape.

“Virtually no storm water or graywater leaves the site,” says Woolford.

The historic site’s paved airfield and existing drainage pattern also presented significant design challenges. Because very little of the site had been pervious, most of the storm water on the 30-acre site had previously flowed directly into the harbor without any treatment.

Large sections of the historic paving were removed to provide biofilters for storm water collection. This included native Hawaiian drought-tolerant aki-aki grasses that reduce, slow and cleanse the storm water runoff from the building and parking area.

The entire diaphragm of the roof is a water capture device, with each drain linked to a channel leading to a dedicated rainwater retention tank.

The harvested (non-potable) water supplies the toilet flushing requirements for plumbing systems.

A second strategy relies on the capture and use of the graywater waste from electrical water coolers, condensate from the rooftop mechanical equipment, and the building lavatories and showers fitted with low-flow fixtures. The graywater supplies the site landscape irrigation systems and provides 100 percent of the irrigation demand, which has been minimized by the use of native and adaptive species for landscaping.


Given the historic nature of the site and existing buildings—and the remoteness of Oahu in the Pacific—the design team made every effort to reuse the existing structure and minimize use of imported materials. Local materials such as the sustainably grown and harvested ohia wood and basalt stone were used extensively throughout the project. The team also selected materials based on their long-term durability and appropriateness for a federal facility, including compliance with hurricane and anti-terrorism requirements.

The project complied with NAVFAC’s Affirmative Procurement Program, which mandates compliance with EPA’s Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines. These guidelines require federal agencies to measure, report and reduce greenhouse gas pollution from agency operations and to reduce waste, increase efficiencies and cut costs.

To maximize use of recovered materials, the team specified construction products including structural fiberboard, laminated paperboard, plastic pipe and fittings, geotextiles, cement/concrete containing ground-granulated blast furnace slag, carpet and floor tiles. Specifications for building materials ensured low-toxicity levels and defined the minimum pre and post-consumer recovered material content.

A construction waste management program reduced waste by 95 percent through reuse, recycling and supplier takeback of materials. Material selections were informed by local environmental conditions and local materials were specified when possible.



Ensuring excellent indoor environmental quality was among the highest design priorities.

noaa-concept-drawing-300“The deep plans of the existing hangar structures meant that daylight through perimeter windows could illuminate only a fraction of the floor area,” says Woolford, whose team found a solution in the use of specially crafted light lanterns.

The lanterns drive daylight deep into the building by capturing and reflecting sunlight down into the space without artificial lighting. Translucent reflectors below glow-like light fixtures distribute sunlight and reflect it back up to the ceiling, which becomes a luminaire.

By bringing in 100 percent outside air though the ventilation system and large amounts of daylight through the skylights, occupants are given fresh air and natural light throughout the working day. Ninety-five percent of the occupants can control their own light levels. The underfloor air distribution system enables all occupants to control their thermal comfort by adjusting floor diffusers. Low-emitting adhesives and sealants, paints and coatings, carpet systems and composite wood all exceed LEED requirements.

The facility promotes activity with the grand staircase in the center atrium, an indoor fitness center and a connection to the walking and cycling trail around the island perimeter. The on-site café serves local, organic food and is partially staffed by blind veterans.

noaa-land-conservation-640AHUPUA’A LAND CONSERVATION

As part of the waterfront park’s design, the original edge of the island is remembered while returning the existing water’s edge to a more natural state. The waterfront plaza reflects a more natural order with softer lines, less hardscape and concepts related to the site’s unique vistas, Polynesian land use practices, and the ahupua’a—the Hawaiian method of land subdivision—via plant material and exhibit structures.

The site is landscaped with historic and indigenous Hawaiian and Polynesian-introduced plants that thrive without potable water. Its landmark status limited restoration of the airfield hardscape. The team, however, added a significant amount of vegetation to a site previously devoid of wildlife. Native kou trees were planted to represent the historic monkeypod trees that once lined the boulevard. Native Hawaiian planting along the water’s edge at the harbor helps filter site runoff before it enters the harbor while educating building occupants and visitors about Hawaiian flora. Grassed stripped and grassed biofilter areas provide sediment removal.



NOAA has a strong relationship with Polynesian culture and the ocean. The intersection of the two represents a fusion between, and respect for, both traditions. The design team engaged with stakeholders including local cultural agencies, preservationists and military partners.

Ford Island was originally inhabited by ancient Hawaiians and then cultivated as a sugarcane plantation. In 1877, the U.S. Navy converted it into a military installation. Today, it is listed as an endangered historic site.

The primary circulation path helps unite the historic airfield, hangars and makai waterfront into a unified campus. A central atrium serves as a visitor center for education and outreach. Students come here to learn about the environment, local ecology, the oceans and NOAA. Partnerships with the University of Hawaii and visiting doctoral researchers advance this knowledge. The campus promotes collaboration between forecasters and climate scientists to reinforce a shared mission of developing environmental intelligence.

The design designates places along the waterfront for large gatherings, Polynesian festivities, informal dining and public exhibits highlighting the island’s voyaging history.


The adaptive re-use of the hangars coupled with sustainable design features led to both first-cost and operational savings for NOAA. Construction costs for NOAA’s new Pacific headquarters came in at $435 a square foot. By comparison, the cost to construct a typical research and administration building, averages between $500 and $750 per square foot.

Meanwhile, the consolidation into the new space saves the NOAA approximately $3 million per year in operational costs, $415,000 in energy and $8,300 in water.

Related: AIA COTE 2017 Top Ten Project Winner: Ng Teng Fong General Hospital