Building Industry Hall of Fame

2008 Building Industry Hall of Fame Awardee

Vladimir Ossipoff

FINAL Video Script September 20, 2008
2008 Building Industry Hall of Fame Awardee Vladimir Nicholas Ossipoff

We honor Vladimir Nicholas Ossipoff, FAIA, as the second Building Industry Hall of Fame Architect for improving the quality of life for the people of Hawaii.

Vladimir Nicholas Ossipoff was born in Russia in 1907. His father, Nicholas, was a military attaché representing the Czar at the Russian Embassy in Japan and the family moved to Tokyo in 1909. Attending the American school in Tokyo, Vladimir spoke Russian, Japanese and English and watched the construction of Frank Lloyd Wright’s renowned Imperial Hotel. In 1923, the Great Kanto earthquake leveled most of Tokyo and while Nicholas remained at the Russian Embassy, Vladimir migrated to Berkeley, California with his mother, brother and sister. Vladimir graduated from Berkeley High School in 1927 and worked his way through the University of California Berkeley’s School of Architecture performing assorted odd jobs, even sheep herding in the ranches of northern California where he developed his life long love of riding. Val graduated from UC Berkeley in 1930, joined a San Francisco architectural firm and decided to move to Hawaii in 1931 to work with C.W. Dickey. The deepening of the Great Depression created an opportunity when Val joined the Home Building Department of Theo Davis & Company as the staff architect to design homes. His college sweetheart, Lyn Laughery remained in California, but after much convincing, she sailed to the islands and they married in 1934. Val and Lyn, and later, their two daughters lived in Lanikai. By 1936 he started his own architecture business and worked out of a home office.  In 1937, Val moved into a downtown Honolulu office and was designing Hawaiian style double pitched roofs and open interior space beach homes for mainland millionaires Charles Boettcher at Kalama Beach Park and Robert Honeyman in Kahala, as well as homes for Howard B. Lyman on Portlock and Spencer Weaver on Diamond Head. Ossipoff closed his offices during the war to work with the Pacific Naval Air Bases. The family moved to Honolulu in 1944 and he reopened his offices after the war. He frequently joined in collaborative efforts with Alfred Preis, and former Berkeley classmates Allen Johnson, Philip Fisk and Thomas Perkins. One of the prominent projects of this group, with Ossipoff as the lead designer, was Bachman Hall at the University of Hawaii.

Throughout the 1950’s Val continued developing a signature style that blended modernism with the influence of living in Japan and Dickey’s consideration of the islands’ climate and culture. Ossipoff designed unique appropriate architecture for Hawaii through the use of sun screens as in the Hawaiian Life Insurance Building on Kapiolani Blvd. and the IBM Building on Ala Moana Blvd. The use of natural materials in the original McInerny Store in Waikiki and the modern interpretation of Asian motifs as depicted in the Liberty Bank in Chinatown. Val’s residential and public buildings also reflected his signature style as demonstrated in some of his most celebrated works such as the Liljestrand  Residence on Tantalus, the Goodsill Residence in Puu Panini, the Pauling Residence on Tantalus, the Ossipoff Residence on Paiko Lagoon at Kuli’ou’ou, the Pacific Club with Harry Seckel and Merrill, Simms & Roehrig and the Outrigger Canoe Club.

These signature buildings were “virtual” in their focus on Ossipoff’s most notable design elements: the blurring of the inside-outside connection, the framing of views, the use of borrowed scenery to expand a space, and the use of natural ventilation and materials.  These buildings all celebrated Hawaii’s climate and natural beauty rather than impose a building icon on the landscape. In addition to being admired as handsome structures, his most successful buildings are often more appreciated viewed from the inside looking out.

Val balanced the growth of his thriving business with his commitment to the architectural industry as President of the Hawaii AIA Chapter, President of the national AIA, active mentor to students and members of his staff, as well as to contemporaries, colleagues and friends such as Alfred Preis and Peter Wimberly. Val was the first architect from Hawaii elected to Fellowship, one of the highest honors the AIA can bestow upon a member, and his FAIA recognized him in the category of Design. His family shared in his success and in spite of the challenges of living with a perfectionist architect, Lyn and their two daughters thrived in their Puu Panini home, and enjoyed celebrating family gatherings during Val’s rare days off. Val continued to juror major competitions, actively support community organizations like the Boy Scout Eagle program, and always found time for tennis, horse back riding, camping, playing chess and his membership in the Social Science Association of Hawaii. Over the years, even weekends at the special sanctuary of the family’s Palehua cabin at the top of the Waianae Mountain Ridge, Val would hike and be in constant motion. In 1973, the firm of Ossipoff, Snyder, Rowland and Goetz incorporated and Val kept working and traveling. He passed away in 1998, leaving a legacy of impeccable sense in capturing a view or borrowing an exterior space that has influenced many Hawaii architects. The Goodsill Residence and Liljestrand Residence have both been placed in the Hawaii Register of Historic Places and many Ossipoff buildings are now coming of age as fifty year old properties that can be considered for National Register of Historic Places recognition; a fitting tribute for the innovative Russian architect who called Hawaii home for over sixty years.