How Can Sustainable and Green Architecture Revitalize Hawaii’s Chinatown?


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Project Statement

This project aims to revitalize Honolulu’s Chinatown through the construction of new housing and commercial space using sustainable, green architecture in a mode that accommodates the historic significance of the neighborhood. Sustainable development is cheaper and would serve as long-term, low-income housing, as well as be an affordable space to run a business. Not only would sustainable architecture serve an environmental and economical benefit, but modern construction would also contribute to the visual architecture of Chinatown.


This building would be utilized by business owners and the low-income population. It would also serve the Chinese-American community which would benefit from the rehabilitation of Chinatown. This project could potentially improve the local economy, given that many businesses in Chinatown are local family businesses.


To enhance the architecture of Chinatown (unique in that it consists of historic buildings, which were established in the 1840’s). Build it to act as affordable housing, which is necessary in the high-cost state of Hawaii. Many people struggle with finding housing in the city. Rebuilding damaged buildings in the run-down neighborhood of Chinatown with sustainable materials would improve the quality of the neighborhood, which is desperately needed.


Using sustainable materials would be cheaper than rebuilding completely, would last hundreds of years, and would benefit the environment. These buildings would serve as housing and allow for more affordable rent/mortgage. The sustainable materials in question are waste-based-bricks (including recycled plastic waste or mineral waste), sustainably grown repurposed invasive lumber, carbon-sequestered-concrete, ceramic tile, and limestone plaster. In addition, the waste-based bricks could be used to recycle/upcycle waste produced in Hawaii rather than shipping it across the Pacific to Asia or North America. The green architecture in question would be moss lawns/walls, which would offset pollution in the city, could be used as an insulator, and also serves for more greenery in the neighborhood.

Client Interviews

I contacted Karen at the Honolulu Heritage foundation of Hawaii. She informed me of Chinatown’s historic designation, and how it may affect the building plan. Most importantly, she informed me that any new construction must follow the style of the historic buildings surrounding it. To her knowledge, red brick is a required construction material, so I may have to change materials. She advised me to look at the government’s building regulations, which are quite restrictive.

I contacted Melanie Islam, at at AIA Honolulu. I inquired about sustainable material and Chinatown’s architectural guidelines. She gave me many online resources, including government websites and sustainability checkers. Melanie informed me of the Albizia tree project, and carbon sequestered concrete, which have become major elements of my project.

Site Analysis

At this point, I had decided on a location, the intersection of North Pauahi Street and River Street.

Existing conditions include:

  • Nearby outdoor market
  • River across the street
  • Park across the street

Elements include:

  • Sun rises upwards from the buiding
  • Sun sets downwards from the building

Utilities include:

  • Courtyard/parking is left of the building
  • Bus station across the street

Neighborhood specifics include:

  • Chinatown
  • Lots of public transit
  • Lots of foot transit

Context of the space:

  • North-West of the financial district
  • North-West of downtown
  • Between suburbs and downtown

Circulation specifics include:

  • Located on a two-way street
  • Located near two main boulevards
  • Nearest highway is a three minute drive

Sensory specifics include:

  • Mid/low traffic in the area
  • Park sounds
  • River sounds
  • River smells

Potential of the space includes

  • Three story facade
  • Extra height for residential in the back

Despite the chosen location and analysis, I struggled with creating the scale of the building I desired. The images below demonstrate my design process.

This design is the first design I created, but I felt that it did not accommodate as many families/units as I wished.

This was larger and allowed for an interior courtyard, but I felt it was too big to be a conceivable building in the neighborhood

Program Data Sheets

The sheets below are preliminary plans for one model of residential space and one model of commercial space.

Floor Plan

This design accommodates more families than my initial design, while taking up less space than my second design. The individual unit size and shape would grow to change, but this is generally the final shell of the building. 

Bubble Diagram


B Bed, BT Bathroom, C Closet,            D Dining, K Kitchen, L Living


(Commercial differ by the client. Examples A) restaurant B) grocery store)

B Bar, BT Bathroom, C Cashier,       D Dining, O Office, K Kitchen,          S Shopping, ST Storage

Design Development

To develop design I examined the scale of the building, and found the outlines united above to accommodate an appropriate space while also being an easy-to-plan housing unit. The above image on the left hand depicts the commercial floor, and how it interacts with the street view and car park. The above image on the right hand depicts the residential floors, which are all identical – consideration includes views out the window. Both images consider hallways and elevators, as well as the driveway.


Final Presentation


Interior + Exterior

Aerial + Floor Plan

Residential Unit Floor Plan

Exterior Materials

Interior Materials

Site Plan


  1. Are there any cultural neighborhoods in your city that you feel are worth investing in?
  2. How are local and family businesses doing in your city? Both in general, and due to COVID-19.
  3. Do you know if any new construction in your area is actively using sustainable materials?





  1. Hi Alex,
    I found your project and idea very interesting! I love how you used sustainable materials in order to sustain the cultural neighborhood and how to stop gentrification. There is also a China Town where I live in San Francisco, and I think this project could also be very beneficial. Many local and family businesses are suffering particularly due to Covid and have been forced to shut down.
    Nice work!

  2. Hi Alex, I think your project is really interesting, and I think you did a good job on it. I liked how you gave us a sense of your decision making in the project, how you changed your mind about the size of the building for example, as it gave a sense of how your project evolved over it course. I also really liked how well made your site plan, floor plan, and SketchUp models were, as although they didn’t have many words on them, they were really easy to understand, and provided a good sense of what the building would be like. Overall I think it was really good.

  3. Hi Alex! I enjoyed looking at your first draft and then the second draft of the layout you were trying to achieve. This is very reflective of the architecture process and figuring out how the building should fit into the surrounding environment. Everything else is organized very neatly and your use of sustainable materials is also something that everyone should consider today. Around where I live, people have started to utilize green energy and sustainable materials more and many of the sustainable materials are also representative of what materials are offered here.

  4. Hi Alex! I really like how you showed your design process, such as how your idea for the site arrangement changed. I think this showing of your thinking during the process is very interesting and valuable. I totally agree with you that the pandemic has had a huge impact on many businesses and places such as your Chinatown. As far as I know, a lot of businesses have been forced to shut down here in Germany due to COVID as well, and I think a project like yours would certainly make a difference in our current situation.

  5. Hi Alex! I found you project really interesting. I found your writing had great readability due to frequent bullet points and small chunks of text. I enjoyed the flow of the design process and the images are very impressive. I found labeling very effective and this was consistent throughout most images with arrows or keys but I think a reminder next to every image that uses letters or acronyms would be helpful. This is a great idea and I think it would work very well in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

  6. Hi Alex! I found you project really interesting! I found your writing had great readability due to frequent bullet points and small chunks of text. I enjoyed the flow of the design process and the images are very impressive. I found labeling very effective and this was consistent throughout most images with arrows or keys but I think a reminder next to every image that uses letters or acronyms would be helpful. This is a great idea and I think it would work very well in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

  7. Hey Alex,
    Your project was very well done and I really enjoyed looking over it. Your designs were especially nice, the attention to detail was very admirable. They were organized and very impressive. The little side notes and labels were also very helpful. Overall great job!

  8. I liked Alex’s project very much, she has tried to make it affordable and without damaging the environment. She also uses a different type of brick and blend in with the history of other buildings. Her sketch up drawing were very well done.

  9. Hey Alex! I really liked how all of your diagrams were super detailed and informative. You have an amazing attention to detail and your final product looks great. Your design fits the space perfectly. Great Job!

  10. Hey Alex, I really like your project idea and think that your final presentation turned out very well. I found that your choice to interview someone from the Heritage Foundation smart since you want to keep the feel of the neighborhood rather than just gentrifying it. Well done!

  11. Hi Alex! I really enjoyed reading your project! Your work and diagrams are all detailed, neat, and well thought out and I liked your innovative way of responding to the community issues around you. I think it is very important and found it interesting how you included sustainable materials as well as built a structure in which would help local businesses in Hawaii in the effects of the pandemic.

  12. Hey Alex, everything from your site plan to your bubble diagrams and floor-plan are all extremely well designed and easy to follow. It looks like you put a crazy amount of detail into them which makes understanding the ideas of your design easy as well. Your design and your aim to make it affordable and sustainable would help make this a success in revitalizing Hawaii’s Chinatown!

  13. Hi Alex! You did so well with your project! Your work is so neat, and your idea is amazing! Your program data sheets really showed how careful you were to represent every detail of your project. I also liked how you want to incorporate the historic values of chinatown with the evolving popularity of sustainable architecture.

  14. Hi Alex,

    You have such a bright future in architecture should you choose to pursue it. Your research on materials, coupled with your visual use of software are impressive. I also appreciated how your sustainable architecture would serve the community they need I think he most.

    Take care,

    Dr. Mitsuda

  15. Hi Alex! I really love how you designed your concept of green architecture and lower-cost housing is very well-executed. Everything looks very detailed and professional, and overall engaging and interesting to look at.

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