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Tropical Modern Master : Ossipoff

by Susi, 15 August 2008

Residence by Vladimir Ossipoff, Hawaii.

Tropical residential design for a changing world is a topic we pursue with a passion. In this pursuit it has been impossible to overlook Vladimir Ossipoff, hailed as the master of Hawaii modernism. His principles and programs for creating homes that manifest an enlightened approach to appropriateness, aesthetics and comfort are well worth studying. Particularly for all of those who are involved in the intense development boom in tropical havens like Bali, the Caribbean, the South Pacific and elsewhere.

Plan, Linus Pauling Jr. Residence, by Vladimir Ossipoff.

So do take note of a seminal exhibition of Vladimir Ossipoff’s work which opened at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, and is coming 2 September – 24 October to the newly renovated exhibition gallery of the august Yale University School of Architecture

Ossipoff manifested some 2,000 completed projects during his career, among them many highly influential residences in Hawaii, and the main airport terminal at Honolulu, a Wrightian-Hawaiian masterpiece (below).

Honolulu airport terminal by Vladimir Ossipoff.

The man declared early in his career a “war on ugliness” in response to the horrors of overdevelopment which had just begun in Hawaii. He developed and adhered to a set of principles in his work that would serve tropical designers well to remember today. Sensitivity to context and culture, environmental awareness, integration of exterior and interior, and an adherence to rigourous design integrity. Study this, please, before Bali and other tropical havens for the moneyed elite, the retired masses, and the ruthless speculators are buried in an avalanche of Bad Buildings.

Vladimir Ossipoff-designed residence, Hawaii.

Ossipoff was certainly an interesting character. Russian, but born in Japan where his father was in the Russian foreign service, he took his degree at the University of California Berkeley, and eventually migrated to Hawaii. The Japanese influence, at a deep level, clearly was imprinted on Ossipoff at an early age and never left him. This reminds me of a similar vein of Japanese influence in mid-century Pacific Northwest architecture, which I will expound on in due course. Interestingly, one of Ossipoff’s assets was his fluency in formal, proper Japanese. The many first generation Japanese immigrant carpenters, builders and gardeners who found themselves in Hawaii mid-century, were deeply respectful and sympatico with Ossipoff. When he asked them to make a shoji style door, no further explanation was neccessary. Both architect and craftsman had immediate understanding and mutual respect. The results reflect this particular symbiosis.

If you don’t have an opportunity to see the exhibition, you must get the book, Hawaii Modern – The Architecture of Vladimir Ossipoff, published by the Yale University Press.


    • Thank you for your eloquent write up on Hawaiian Modern. We're proud of the exhibition. As someone who was born in Hawaii and spent time in Bali as a teenager, I appreciate your connecting Ossipoff's development ideas to Bali. I haven't been since the 1970s, but I'm sure I wouldn't recognize it now, just as I see natural and architectural landmarks fall here seemingly monthly.

      • stephen devery
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      • November 17, 2008

      .....fortunate to be the builder of one of his last hawaiiana homes, on KAUAI, right next to the light house, the most northern point in the Hawaiian chain. Wonderful experience indeed...1979.

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