IBM Honolulu Plaza



Honolulu, HI | Surfacedesign, Inc. | Client: Victoria Ward Ltd., Subsidiary of Howard Hughes Corporation


Inspired by the existing modernist façade, the new courtyard at IBM Victoria Ward tower showcases a landscape expression of modern Hawaiian architectural motifs and powerful cultural history. The historic IBM tower was designed by Vladimir Ossipoff—Hawaii’s quintessential modernist. The new landscape is a distilled expression of Hawaiian identity and serves as an introduction to a larger mixed-use master plan of over 60 acres in central Honolulu.


Providing new ways of engaging with the architecture, the courtyard design pays homage to Ossipoff’s façade pattern in the paving of its ground plane and in a new elevated water feature. The original landscape was never fully realized, and until this redesign Ossipoff’s beautiful building sat in an asphalt parking lot. As viewed from the new Lanai—a vernacular Hawaiian landscape typology—the subtly articulated courtyard allows for flexibility for events and everyday use, ultimately creating a place of respite from the urban edge. The linear water feature screens the foreground while creating a linkage to the ocean’s horizon line and reflecting the play and ephemerality of light throughout the day. Paving patterns reveal three dynamic qualities of the same volcanic stone, rooting the site in Hawaii’s geologic origin. The stone’s surface treatments—honed, which catches the light of the sky; flamed, which appears matte but shimmers when viewed from above; and split-faced, which exposes rugged depth—are expressed through the patterned courtyard, and register the transforming light through the day and night.

Scalar shifts in the patterning throughout the site allow users to discover new ways of engaging with the architecture and the site at large. The hardscape interweaves with permeable, native ‘lawn board’ plantings, referencing the paradigmatic surfboard array at the beach’s edge and speaking to the ecological history of the site.

Beyond rooting the design in the historical and visual context of the existing building, the landscape celebrates Hawaii’s creation myth to create a space that speaks to the cultural history as well. The landscape architects met with Native Hawaiian descendants to help articulate physical expressions of this sacred oral history. In the traditional Hawaiian narrative, people descend from Earth Mother and Sky Father, whose earthly children were first Taro, and then Man—created to care for Taro. The mysticism of this creation story is dynamically expressed through the patterns of water and light as the sky father is projected through the glass bottom of the water feature onto the taro plantings and earth mother below.

The water feature—an elevated datum—is a visual and experiential connection to the site’s context and an expression of the surrounding sea and ever-changing island sky. Providing new ways of engaging with the architecture, the water feature showcases moving reflections of light that capture the façade and project it as a new dynamic horizon line for the site that bridges landscape and architecture. Automobile noise and paving are obscured by this audible and visual screen. The waves of the beach beyond Alamoana Boulevard seem to crash directly onto the water’s surface. The water reflects its architectural muse and the sky during the day and at night it transforms, emphasizing the pattern of its steel runnels. The architectural patterning integrates further as water spills into a moat that wraps the space, creating an illusion that the courtyard floats in the sky. The moat is fed by the cascade of scuppers dancing along the elevated fountain edge.

The minimalist palate of plants and stone expresses a distillation of the materiality and plantings of the surrounding Hawaiian landscape. The distinct Hawaiian sunlight is translated through different mediums—water, glass, metal, and living materials. Harnessing the dynamic environmental context, the courtyard design registers the sunrise, sunset, rain, and ephemeral quality of the Hawaiian light. The landscape is the first contemporary design in Hawaii to showcase all native and endemic plant species, educating visitors about Hawaiian ecologies in an urban context. As such, the design sets the stage for future development of the Victoria Ward that engages natural, historical and cultural histories of Hawaii.

"In the midst of ho-hum architecture, the IBM plaza pops out: All of a sudden there is a masterpiece."

- 2015 Awards Jury


Lead Designers
James Lord, ASLA
Alain Peauroi
David Godshall

Additional Project Credits
Woods Bagot - Architects
Richard Quinn, Local Landscape Architect, Helber Hastert & Fee
Nate Smith Studio- Project Manager
Ryde Azama, Project Engineer

Victoria Ward Ltd., Subsidiary of Howard Hughes Corporation
David R. Weinreb, CEO
Nicholas D. Vanderboom, Senior Vice President, Development



MSI Stone

Water Management/Amenities

Custom Steel and Glass Fountain: Pacific Aquascapes

Plant List

Pandanus tectoris Hala
Metrosideros polymorpha’Ohi’a Lehua
Dianella lavarum ‘Uki’uki
Hibiscus waimeae Koki’o Kea
Neproleipis cordifolia Kupukupu
Hibiscus kokio Koki’o
Micrdepia strigosa Palapalai
Scaevola taccada Naupaka
Cibotium glaucum Hapu’u
Pittosporum confertiflorum Ho’awa