Sense of Place at the Hawaii Convention Center

June 3, 2012

As I am walking up Ala Wai Boulevard to the Hawaii Convention Center, I see that the back of the Hawaii Convention Center abuts the Ala Wai Canal. It reminds me of McCormick Place in Chicago and even the San Diego Convention Center, both being on the waterfront.


As I round the corner to the front of the building I realize that is where the convention centers diverge in similarity, and the Hawaii Convention Centers stands on its own.


June Matsumoto, director of international markets and business development for the Hawaii Convention Center, takes me on a tour of the ‘sense of place’ that the center captures beautifully. 


There are more than 200,000 square feet of space and 47 meeting rooms in this four-story building, which will be celebrating its 15 year anniversary next year. 


It has the largest option of space for a convention on the Hawaiian Islands. The space is vast within the convention center, with floor to ceiling glass encasing the lobby, but still has comforting elements, like the palm trees that were planted in the lobby of the building before it was erected, as well as beautiful interior landscaping to bring nature in. 


We pass by some of the $2.5 million pieces of art in the center as June explains the artist and what is depicted - it is a Hawaiian state law that 1 percent of building costs are allocated to local artists who, in their artwork, perpetuate Hawaiian culture.  So, the art throughout the center is more than art; it can teach visitors about the history of Hawaii and share its culture with the world.


And the Hawaii Convention Center is positioned to share its culture with the world. The center draws delegates and exhibitors from Asia, with a growing influence from China and Korea. Eyes are on these counties as they become positioned to stake their claim in the global economy, and Hawaii is tapping into this Eastern connection.  


The convention center has been designed to allow spontaneous and natural gatherings, from the seating arrangements in the halls to the two courtyards to the open back wall that gives access to an outside lower level, all the way to the canal walk. 


Yes, you read that right – the back wall of the convention center is completely open, allowing trade winds to circulate for natural ventilation. 


Green also is something the convention center does well, from the lights to the natural ventilation to the materials used for some of the design build. Even the executive chef, Jacob Silver, uses the ‘farm to table’ concept, incorporating local produce in the menus.


One thing that I hoped to see on my visit was the Hawaiian concept of water flow depicted in the center.  The top level veranda has a smaller waterfall that emulates the flow of water from the mountain to the ocean (the lobby level, in this case), but the lobby waterfall was shut down for repairs. I was able to see, however, the Water Giver statue in the front of the Convention Center (as well as his sister, the Storyteller, located further down Waikiki Beach). 


The convention center sees six to seven large conventions each year, at an average of 10,000 attendees each. They have seen groups up to 20,000 at one time, with the one main issue being the hotel space available on the island.  


As more exhibitors experience the ‘sense of space’, however, I think the number of conventions will start to increase. You really are in a separate space, very much on the island of O’ahu, but feel as if you have been transported to a different realm.  With the beauty of the island all around you, the space design gives some good competition to keep attendees inside and focused.


Taking the elevator down to the lobby level, as forest serenity sounds fill the elevator car, I start to appreciate all the touches that the Hawaii Convention Center has added to make this experience one-of-a-kind, where business and aloha can not only meet, but merge. A convention at this center would truly be an experience unlike any other.



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