Adaptive reuse projects often require a lot of care to maintain the integrity of the original structure, but few projects come with as much significance as the National Oceanic and Atmos­pheric Administration’s (NOAA) new Pacific Regional Center in Hawaii. Not only are the buildings being remodeled historic, but the work is taking place on some of the most hallowed ground in the United States – Pearl Harbor. 

Architect HOK contributed the design of the 350,000-square-foot facility, which will consolidate a number of NOAA programs that support the management of coastal and marine resources as well as weather and climate prediction. Marketing Director Rob Tibbetts says the project is located on Ford Island, the same island where the USS Arizona memorial is located in honor of the men and women who died in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Tibbetts compares the site to Gettysburg, and says very little about the site has changed since that infamous day.

“Nothing’s ever been touched,” he says, noting that the tower was still littered with newspapers from the days leading up to the attack.

Respecting History

The scope of the project involves renovating and adapting two World War II-era airplane hangars on the island for laboratory and office space, as well as constructing a new building between them. Originally, HOK was asked by the U.S. Navy to provide sustainability consulting, but later was asked to submit a proposal for the design of the project, which it won. The Navy is serving as the program manager for the project, and HOK is working with Hawaii-based architect Ferraro Choi. Already under construction, the Pacific Regional Center is expected to be completed by the end of 2012.

The first challenge HOK faced was determining how to deal with the hangars’ age and unconventional shape. “Basically, the hangars were abandoned,” Tibbetts says. “They were using them to store old cars.”

Paul Woolford, design director and project principal on the project, says the firm worked closely with preservationists in Hawaii to keep the hangars as close to their original condition as possible. “The most challenging aspect of the project was how to respect these two historical properties,” he says.

The firm has managed to keep the design as true to the original look of the hangars as it could. “The only thing that will be slightly different will be the windows because many of them were damaged over the years,” Woolford says.

Campus Feel

Aside from the challenge of maintaining the historic appearance of the hangars, HOK also had to tackle the question of how to design the most effective space for NOAA. With seven line offices and 38 groups sharing space in the new facility, along with space for public functions, the orientation of the space was a concern.

“We had to create a complex that performed more like a campus than it did like a building,” Woolford says. And that’s exactly how HOK approached the project, operating from the idea that every design element in the project should have more than one reason for being there.

For example, continuing the campus theme, the complex features a central quadrangle, which is a long, open atrium that incorporates public function spaces such as the library, dining and fitness areas, and an auditorium. In each of the existing hangar structures, courtyards open up from the roof all the way down to the ground level. These areas serve as gather­ing spaces and allow sunlight into the buildings for day lighting. “Everything was carefully measured and balanced,” Woolford says. 

Sustainable Structure

Features such as the open roofs have contributed to an anticipated LEED Gold certification for the NOAA Pacific Regional Center. The natural light provided by the complex’s diffusive light system virtually eliminates the need for artificial light during the day, one of many ways in which the project has been designed to be environmentally sustainable.

The complex’s ventilation system takes advantage of the trade winds that sweep across the islands, with wind scoops that pull them into the buildings. Once inside, the winds are passed over coils filled with cold sea water pumped up from depths of up to 3,000 feet. Woolford says this water already is brought up for research purposes, and it is used to cool air for air-conditioning. Warm air from inside the buildings is allowed to rise through the open areas in the center of the hangars and through diffusers. “We have a near-constant air ventilation system that is essentially without the need of any mechanical fans,” Woolford says.

Constant Evolution

As one of the nation’s largest and most diverse design firms, HOK’s experience and approach made it especially suited for the task of designing the NOAA project, Woolford says. “I think the thing that made us well-suited for this project is our core design philosophy, which is that the best buildings come from an interdisciplinary process,” he says.

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