The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Memorial Chapel moved regional design for Hawaii in an entirely new direction. Rather than draw upon 1920s and 1930s solutions to evoke a sense of place, this innovative chapel blended ancient and modern architectural forms and materials. Native Hawaiian architectural forms, which sixty years earlier had been discounted as negligible, were resurrected utilizing contemporary construction methods. The battered lava-rock foundation rising from the hillside, reminiscent of heiau (traditional Hawaiian place of worship) such as Puukohola; the steep, double-pitched hipped roof with its rounded gablet and copper batten sheeting, which was treated to have it appear as thatch; the expansive lanai with cast-coral stone columns; and the extensive use of koa wood and native plantings provide a strong sense of place and culture, and contrast with the white reinforced-concrete walls.
A walkway lined by kukui trees, ti, and lauae ferns leads to a terrace shaded by bread-fruit trees. The rear of the terrace includes a freestanding, forty-foot-long memorial wall facing the chapel entrance, which contains 239 blocks of cut basalt from the original Bernice Pauahi Bishop Memorial Chapel that was torn down in 1938 to make way for Farrington High School (OA5). The restrooms are discretely placed in a corner incorporated into a lava-rock platform. The entrance to the chapel presents a wall of koa doorways and glass. Koa, gathered from Bishop Estate property, also is employed in the lanai's and chapel's ceilings as well as in the pews and altar. The sandalwood cross was made by Wright Bowman, as were the chancel's koa furnishings.
Southeast of the chapel is the twenty-seven-hundred-square-foot Heritage Center. This square building, with its high-pitched pyramidal, copper roof, walls scored to imitate coral block, and tamarind tree at the center's side, is meant to recall Haleakala, the Bishops' former home in downtown Honolulu. A tamarind on that property was known as a place where Princess Bernice often sat and talked with people.
Born in Honolulu, architects Dwight Kauahikaua and Dan Chun worked together at Lemmon, Freeth, Haines and Farrell, and then Belt Collins before forming their own firm in September 1981. Kauahikaua received degrees in architecture from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and the University of California at Berkeley, while Chun obtained his architectural degree from the University of Southern California. The firm has been in the forefront of a contemporary regional architecture for Hawaii, as demonstrated by the University of Hawaii's Hawaiian Studies Building (OA122.6), the Molokai Education Center (ML7), and the Kulana Oiwi complex (ML5).