A sustainable vision of Kalihi drew national recognition for University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa doctoral (DArch) student Christopher Songvilay. His School of Architecture PhD project, “Bridging Kalihi,” was selected among hundreds of entries to be displayed in the Drawing for the Design Imaginary Exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
After taking Assistant Professor Karla Sierralta’s Draw Story advanced elective class in fall 2018, Songvilay interpreted how the design process could transform Kalihi from a dominantly industrial/car-centric area to a more walkable and sustainable community.
“It was an honor to be recognized for this drawing project, because I did my thesis design in parallel with exploring affordable housing in the Kalihi/Palama area,” said Songvilay, now a research assistant at the UH Community Design Center. “Through this class I came to understand that, even though our island is small, every piece of land is really rich in context, history, culture and geography. I hope my recognition shows that there is a lot of quality work coming out of the School of Architecture.”
Songvilay’s project explored the ahupuaʻa of Kalihi, Kapālama and Kahauiki through visually abstracting changes in the built environment, geography and industry.
“There is a strong contrast between the preserved cultural and sustainable practices happening in mauka and the heavily industrialized makai,” Songvilay noted. “My drawing poses the question for the future of ‘How can we come to a compromise between the need for an industrial economy, but still build walkable and sustainable environments that are rooted in cultural value?’”
Sierralta expressed pride in Songvilay’s work and said the DArch program trains students to look at the familiar and hypothesize what could be.
“His drawing presents the current complex and contrasting relationship between the mauka and makai sides of Kalihi Valley. Schools of fish transform into fleets of cargo; coral reefs merge with landfill; remnants of World War II march along the shore,” she wrote. “The virgin character of the mountain, associated with cultural values and indigenous traditions rooted in respect for the people and love of the land, abruptly meets the vast, unfriendly industrial landscape that borders the coast.”