Pop culture paints Hawaii as a carefree place to live, but for more than a half-century, Honolulu, the capital city and largest metro area in the archipelago, has been plagued by poor urban planning. Although Waikiki may seem to visitors a bustling and walkable hub, for Oahu’s nearly one million residents, the island can feel as congested as Los Angeles. But Honolulu may be on the brink of a new era. The city has an obvious economic incentive to be resource efficient—anything not grown or made locally has to be imported from thousands of miles away—and sustainability is a core value of Hawaiian culture. Honoring both realities, real estate development companies have taken recent strides to incorporate environmental design on a significant scale in the islands through green-building practices and smart urban planning.
One such developer is the Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC), leading the charge with a mixed-use community located between downtown Honolulu and Waikiki. Ward Village, whose master plan is certified Platinum under LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND), will incorporate vertical construction and walkable streets while redeveloping approximately 60 acres of land along Oahu’s south shore. Over the course of the next decade, the area will gain 4,000 residences, outdoor spaces for recreation, and more than 1.2 million square feet of retail space. Ward Village not only will be Hawaii’s first LEED-ND Platinum-certified community, but it will also be the largest LEED-ND Platinum project in North America.
The village is named for Victoria Ward, the matron of a real estate holding company formed in the late 1800s. The parcel in question had remained in Ward’s family for more than a hundred years. In 2002 it was purchased by General Growth Properties, and when HHC spun out of that company in 2010, the land came with it. HHC began master-planning Ward Village by conducting community research and meeting with stakeholders and cultural advisors to assess the neighborhood’s needs. Already on the site was Ward Center, a shopping center that includes retail stores, restaurants, and a multiplex movie theater. In 2013, HHC completed its first major project, Ward Village Shops, a 58,000-square-foot retail space into which it has successfully relocated two of its key tenants, Nordstrom Rack and Pier 1 Imports. In January 2014, HHC completed a renovation of the iconic IBM Building, making it Ward Village’s new information center and residential sales gallery. The first two residential projects, high-rise luxury condominiums with retail space and public plazas, were put on pre-sale in early 2014, with an additional tower set to begin construction in fall 2014. All told, the three new towers will create more than 900 new residences.
Native Hawaiians have a history of land management practices that prize stewardship. However, nearly all evidence of it has disappeared as the state has grown and been developed.
In 2013, Honolulu was deemed the nation’s second worst city for traffic congestion, a hollow improvement over its 2012 ranking at number one. To help Hawaii residents become less dependent on their cars, Ward Village’s master plan incorporates transit-oriented and pedestrian-friendly designs. The project’s location and size allow for smart growth in a place where jobs, amenities, and infrastructure already exist. In fact, the project’s location accounts for a good number of the LEED points the project earned in the precertification process. The plan will create a unique, coastal community where people can live, work, and play.
Race Randle is the development director at HHC and has worked on master-planned residential communities and renewable-energy projects in Hawaii for the past decade. He has a deep understanding of the community’s needs. “We are bringing local people into the equation and doing it in a responsible and thoughtful way,” Randle says.
Hawaii’s ethnic and cultural diversity makes it one of the country’s most unique melting pots, and Ward Village will be a reflection of that ethos with luxury condominiums to the east, and affordable rental and senior housing to the north and west. “Because Hawaii is so small, it’s important to build a community that is for everyone,” Randle says. “Ward Village will include everything from luxury residences to affordable housing for the area’s workforce, all in one diverse neighborhood.”
The project poses myriad challenges. Randle and the HHC team have kuleana, or a responsibility, to create both a unique and authentically local space. To do so, they have partnered with a combination of world-renowned designers and top-ranked engineering firms to bring the project to life. Among them is Raimi + Associates, California’s preeminent sustainable urban-planning consulting firm. Aaron Welch, the senior planner at Raimi + Associates who oversaw the Ward Village LEED-ND application, is an expert in neighborhood-scale sustainability and a member of the USGBC’s national Location and Planning Technical Advisory Group—the group that reviews all LEED interpretations and credit refinements or issues with LEED credits pertaining to planning, transportation, or urban design.
“Hawaii is this beautiful paradise in terms of the natural environment, and then the human environment totally sucks,” Welch says. “That’s a simplification, but people typically talk about Honolulu being ugly, and it just doesn’t have to be that way.”
Welch has extensive experience in community planning for cities, and believes in getting to know how a neighborhood works socially, environmentally, and from a transportation perspective during the design process. Welch approached Ward Village in the same way, holding meetings to discuss all aspects of the project: the site plan, the vision, the development program. From there, the team delved deeper into topics such as stormwater and parking design, which were identified as achievable goals. Design elements that weren’t deemed adequately sustainable were either revised or cut. The final plan includes wide sidewalks and shade trees, bicycle parking, and vertical growth in an area that currently consists of one- to three-story structures and warehouses.
Because of its concentration on these neighborhood-level projects, Raimi + Associates knew how to create an extensive plan for HHC that would actually help the developer achieve its sustainability goals. Following the design meeting, improvements were incorporated into the master plan and documented in the LEED-ND certification application. Once final certification was achieved for Ward Village in November 2013, Welch immediately began planning for implementation.
Welch says that even with his firm’s extensive expertise, it was HHC and Randle that really drove the project toward Platinum certification. At one point, Welch admits that he was ready to settle for LEED Gold because none of his projects, and certainly no projects of this magnitude, had ever received Platinum certification. Having 9.3 million square feet of planned buildings, each with their own unique architects and design teams, is a logistical challenge to say the least. It was Randle who was determined to achieve the highest LEED-ND certification available.
Prior to bringing on Raimi + Associates and setting its LEED goals, HHC created its own sustainable guidelines for the community that aligned with the standards of LEED for New Construction. The buildings at Ward Village implement high-performance glass to keep tropical heat out, use state-of-the-art HVAC systems, and are specially aligned to take advantage of Honolulu’s trade winds to reduce energy consumption. The key factor in achieving LEED-ND Platinum is still Ward Village’s location—the community is accessible by bus and trolley, and the city is constructing a light-rail system that will be within walking distance for every resident on the property.
The build out of Ward Village is only in its first phase. The remainder of the 60 acres will be redeveloped over the next 12–15 years. Additional residences, for instance, will be added in response to market demand for homes in Honolulu. HHC’s vision is a community that embodies the rich culture and innate beauty of Hawaii in a relatively small urban space. “Rather than building 4,000 new homes that encompass hundreds of acres of land, we’re building them on 60 acres, in effect freeing up more of Hawaii’s precious land,” Randle says. “We’re just a small island in the middle of the Pacific, so we’re creating a livable, sustainable community with a proportionately small footprint.”