On the beach at Waikiki, the fourteen-story, fifty-seven-unit Diamond Head apartment building was the earliest multistory structure in the United States to employ prestressed-concrete structural members. Prestressed I-beams reduced the need for structural columns and allowed a span of forty feet to give more open, flowing spaces within the individual apartments. Honolulu engineer Alfred Yee helped pioneer the use of prestressed concrete in buildings, developing many solutions for the manufacture and use of prestressed beams, joists, piles, and floor systems. As a result, Hawaii led the nation in prestressed-concrete building construction during the 1950s and early 1960s. Prestressed-concrete beams cost about one-third of the price of poured-in-place concrete structures. In addition, the resiliency of the piles allowed them to be driven into the ground until bedrock was hit, an important consideration in Hawaii, where uneven volcanic substrata can create a difference of as much as fifty feet in the driven length of piles spaced only three feet apart.
Alfred Yee was born in Hawaii in 1925. He obtained his bachelor's degree in structural engineering at Rose Polytechnic Institute in Indiana, and his master's from Yale in 1949. He worked for a year in the bridge design section of the Territorial Department of Public Works, and then for two years at Pearl Harbor before opening an engineering office. In 1955, he went into partnership with Kwon Doo Park, and the pair established the first precast-and prestressed-concrete business in Hawaii. The demolished Long House (1956) at Kaiser Hawaiian Village (OA131) was their first project. In 1960 the partners split, with Yee forming Alfred Yee and Associates, a firm which at one point numbered ninety people. Thanks to Yee, by the mid-1960s, prestressed concrete was a popular building material in Hawaii, used in such large projects as the Kahala Hilton (OA157) and Ilikai (1964; 1777 Ala Moana Boulevard) hotels. Other early projects using Yee's expertise include Unity House (1701 Ala Wai Boulevard) with its “Hawaiian I” beams, the Tree House Apartments (1959; 337 Lewers Street) supported by its “column trees,” and the Sandalwood Apartments (910 Ahana Street), which utilized a domino system of construction, all prestressed-concrete technologies patented by Yee.