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Hawaii State Capitol

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1969, John Carl Warnecke and Belt, Lemmon and Lo. 415 S. Beretania St.
  • (Photograph by Augie Salbosa)

The state capitol reflects Hawaii's unique status: part of the United States, but not part of North America, being instead part of Polynesia. A modern iteration of the classical tradition, this 360 × 270–foot building is infused with the character of Hawaii. The sixty-foot-tall coconut palm columns, the encircling pool representing the ocean, the volcanic-clad conical-shaped legislative chambers, and the open, sky-blue-tiled rotunda ceiling set forth a paean to our Island state, one which is continued in fine koa trim and detailing, and a glass mosaic floor mural, Aquarius, executed by Tadashi Sato. More than a proclamation of physical place, the building embodies the spirit of Hawaii. Its transparent openness not only celebrates Hawaii's exceptional climate but also its casual, open society. Unique among the capitols of the nation's fifty states, the central rotunda is open to the sky and has four floors of equally open galleries. As Governor John Burns noted in his opening address to the fourth legislature in 1969, “The open sea, the open sky, the open doorway, open arms and open hearts—these are the symbols of our Hawaiian heritage. . . . It is by means of the striking architecture of this new structure that Hawaii cries out to the nations of the Pacific and of the world, this message: ‘We are a free people . . . we are an open society . . . we welcome all visitors to our Island home.'”

When originally conceived, the site was selected to afford an unimpeded view of the ocean from the upper floors. However, the fortresslike U.S. federal building (1977; 300 Ala Moana Boulevard) was designed deliberately to obstruct that view.

At the time he was selected to work on the Hawaii State Capitol, John Carl Warnecke had already attained a national reputation from such projects as the John F. Kennedy gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S. Embassy in Thailand.

Writing Credits

Don J. Hibbard


What's Nearby


Don J. Hibbard, "Hawaii State Capitol", [Honolulu, Hawaii], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Hawaii

Buildings of Hawaii, Don J. Hibbard. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011, 108-109.

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