Originally Appearing in " Hardcore Honolulu" (Abstract 2)
Text by Lindsea Wilbur // Images by Cheyne Gallarde
From neighborhood infrastructure to virtual networks online, in the daily hustle of life, architectural design is an element often taken for granted. When done right, it is intuitive, an augmentation of consciousness—at its worst, an insidious manipulation. As art, it alters perspective and gives an insight into immediate experience. Developers, architects and designers wield astonishing power over cities, communities, and citizens. Architecture, from the ground up a deliberate human act, is a manifestation of knowing in action.
In the shadows outside Fresh Café, Korean-born, Hawai'i-raised architect Dimitri Daniel Kim prospects the rising Kaka'ako, and architectural intentions.
"I am an outsider here, a sojourner,” he says. "But this deliberate transformation of Kaka'ako feels like a result of a genuine attempt at place-setting by the community of artists, entrepreneurs, and those who frequent these spaces."
Gesturing at the painted walls, he continues, "What do shiny computerized renderings of the multi-million-dollar commercial and residential 'Kaka'ako' have to do with the community that raised art, culture and revenue through their own determination and creativity? In other words, how will graffiti fit between glass walls and corporate logos?"
Kim is certainly an architect who asks questions.
By refusing to placate outdated cultural norms, his answers are found in designs that push the limits of what could be rather than another version of what’s been. Coming together with other artists, designers, and engineers in the network XMANIFOLD A.D.R.L. (Applied Design Research Laboratory), Kim’s lab is not a permanent studio—it is a philosophical collaboration. Based on idea exchange, the Research Lab facilitates a kind of constant artistic renewal using the power of global networks in this technological age.
XMANIFOLD’s recent exhibition at CoXist Studio, Revenant: The Undeath of Ideas in Architecture, expressed visions of urbanite utopia in a time of rapid change and innovation. Young architects from New York, London, Barcelona, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Honolulu imagined multiple futures—a stock market temple of fiber optic highways in New York City, a motel in a post-apocalyptic desert Los Angeles, or an ancient excavated city from the future called "Utopia."
His second exhibition in Honolulu, The Archipelago, commemorated Earth Day. An artificial landscape design and installation at “A Pinch of Salt” pop-up stores in Kaka'ako, the chain of islands is made up of more than 80 laser-cut recycled MDF boards filled with grass (created in collaboration with Ross Ozaki of the Honolulu Makerspace).
On the global themes of climate change and sustainable growth, The Archipelago tells a tale of slick, calculated technocurves in a chain of green, organic islands—favoring the social space for warm, organic centers framed by colder, efficient technology. A blast of design futuristics, you get the impression of smart cities designed for global networks and sustainable, autonomous living.
In understanding the complexities of design, it becomes clear that architecture is at the junction of diverse social and scientific systems. If "truth is a relationship," as Buckminster Fuller says, then architecture's truth is in active participation—with the space, the materials, the end-users, and the frame it puts on everyday reality. Architects become storytellers revealing collective cultural worldviews in material and function.
What kind of architectural stories can Hawai'i tell in the saga of the second century? Or will we merely bulldoze our way to a simulacrum of paradisiacal living?
Questions hang suspended as eager commercial developers everywhere prepare to design us into corners, smacking their lips. Kim and likeminded artists stand against this change. They understand it’s not about re-designing a single building; it’s about restructuring a broken system. "The time for a hardcore Hawai'i is now or never," says Kim.
In life as in design, be bold—or perish.