The Ala Wai Centennial Memorial Project


What would change if the Ala Wai Canal were revered as a sacred place? Any infrastructure as great as a canal impacting an Earth resource like wai (freshwater) should reflect its importance as a foundation of wealth (waiwai). The English word wealth can be seen as a contraction of “with-health” (w/health > w’ealth > wealth). Sacred places are therefore critical components of ensuring public health in honoring what is crucial to wealth.

The idea of a memorial elevates the Ala Wai Canal to a significant work of architecture, landscape, art, and symbol of hope. As a landform, the canal architecture—a simple line and arc cut into Earth—records the aesthetics of its period, as it emerged alongside art deco and modernism. In landscape, the canal presents a moment of land art that predates the movement of the 60s-80s by 40 years (e.g. Robert Smithson’s 1970s Spiral Jetty). The work of Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial is another important example in conceiving of the Ala Wai Canal as a memorial, with reference to the act of cutting into Earth as symbolic of both trauma and healing.

“I imagined taking a knife and cutting into the earth,
opening it up, an initial violence and pain that in time would heal.”
-Maya Lin

A memorial conceptualizes the importance of sacred places into a city format that often serves to symbolize wealth. On the one hand, “wealth” is literal as memorials are expensive and astronomical to produce, often requiring hundreds of millions to billions of dollars financed through the coordination of multiple networks. However, while such sums of monies should first be used to lift up the people of society from the bottom up, the great expenditure often associated with memorials are eventually justified by a need to declare that healing and recovery have occurred following a devastating event, often through terrorism and war. In many instances for the people directly impacted, the construction of civic works to memorialize their loved ones becomes a life long mission and only pathway through realities of loss and pain. As symbols of recovery, memorials are meant to embody the hope of peoples as pillars of society, and are meant to ultimately symbolize the recovery of safety and resilience of the Public.

Whether or not the Ala Wai Canal is actually memorialized, the idea embodies the spirit in which the problems and dangers of the canal are approached. With regards to climate change, efforts to fortify Waikīkī in the anticipation of catastrophic storms cannot just be about flood control. As the primary infrastructure that developed Waikīkī into what it has become today, to achieve true resilience, completing the Ala Wai Canal must be approached in more nuanced ways.


ALA WAI CENTENNIAL emerges from the research of HAWAI‘I FUTURES, an intervention in island urbanism launched in 2010. The new media installation entails a series of diagrams that abstract the general parti or concept of ahupua‘a and their sequencing of land, water, and sky into materials and nutrients of sustenance. Hawai‘i Futures has been used in curricula around Hawai‘i and beyond, including the Harvard Graduate School of Design in collaboration with the Office of Metropolitan Architecture founded by Rem Koolhaas. Recent functions of Hawai‘i Futures include real-world application in upcoming projects around the islands.

This online exhibition of ALA WAI CENTENNIAL presented worldwide accompanies a physical interface—The Ahupua‘a Holodeck— that has been performed for over 1200 students across public and private schools in Honolulu, a value of over $120,000 provided at 5% of this cost, with the rest for free. The performance entails student and teacher interaction with a dynamic, hybrid physical-virtual platform created through the digital fabrication of a satellite-accurate physical model upon which data-driven graphics are projected and displayed (holodeck).

Examples of student mapping exercises that were then projected onto The Ahupua'a Holodeck, which students then presented and discussed. These drawings in particular were produced by students of SEEQS in coordination with Andrea Charuk.

The concept of The Ahupua‘a Holodeck derives from a concern for spatial literacy. Hawai‘i’s dependence on import-resources, the contamination of streams and fisheries, and the urban development of rainforest, wetlands, and agriculture (to name a few) are linked to the process of Hawai‘i as an island having been designed (spatialized) into a city sans ahupua‘a. As a result, education and decision-making critical to solving issues relating to the broad scale of today’s complex contemporary challenges like the Ala Wai Canal are often made with a limited understanding of how human-built systems (like cities and land-use) move in space, ecologically and in time. The construction of the holodeck and this website intends to utilize technology to help strengthen the spatial literacy of citizens imbued with an emotional function to transform the experiences that drive kuleana (responsibility) into actions toward the recovery of ahupua‘a and ‘āina systems.

THE AHUPUA‘A HOLODECK: This 3D prototype follows innovations in mapping and the production of spatial tools at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and MIT Media Lab. Its construction was made possible through the support of the Honolulu Biennial Foundation, The Taiki and Naoko Terasaki Family Foundation, The Sullivan Center at ‘Iolani Schools, and the School for Examining Essential Questions of Sustainability (SEEQS). Additional presentations of ALA WAI CENTENNIAL with the holodeck have been performed for groups at UH Manoa School of Architecture, Hawaii State Legislature, UH West Oahu, NOAA, City and County of Honolulu, and Bloomberg Philanthropies.
All together, ALA WAI CENTENNIAL is valued at $500,000 in design and planning services provided for the benefit of the community for free.


The issue of the Ala Wai Canal presented within an overarching framework of the ahupua‘a of Waikīkī is crucial to systems thinking. The Ahupua‘a Holodeck simulates a vantage point from where viewers can discuss the Ala Wai Canal in the context of its larger system encompassing an area from mountain to sea. Like a Rubix Cube, a solution toward flood control cannot be isolated and may actually require a range of critical actions that can range from the implementation of forest mosses to rerouting vehicular traffic. For instance, during the presentation, a discussion focused on the flooding of the canal will eventually rest on a resolution to incorporate more farming in neighborhoods. This is because when understood In the context of its larger system, discussions about the Ala Wai covers a larger footprint than just the canal itself. As such, the visualizations presented across the site portray a similar dimensional vantage point of the Ala Wai Canal seen from mountain to ocean. As an architect would model a building both digitally and physically, this project reflects the value of what spatial intellect contributes to the conversation. This website archives the digital content displayed through the Ahupua‘a Holodeck and evolved over the course of an 18-month field study through social engagement in art. The online feature serves as a report of concepts discussed in presentations of ALA WAI CENTENNIAL.

A user video of the model. Both model and visualization are derived from publicly available GIS datasets provided through a variety of government and institutional resources that include: Hawai‘i State GIS Program; Honolulu City and County Department of Planning and Permitting; Ava Konohiki: Ancestral Visions of 'Āina; Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA); Hawai'i State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DNLR); College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources; University of Hawai‘i Geography Department, University of Hawai‘i; U.S. Geological Survey (USGS); U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS); Natural Resources and Conservation Service (NRCS); United States Department of Agriculture (USDA); US Census American Community Survey (ACS). Additional references include a general bibliography of Hawaiian literature from scholars like Kamakau, Marion Kelly, Mary Kawena Pukui, Handy and Handy, Serling and Summers, and more.



2) letter to Neighborhood BoaRDS

For posters, flyers, images, and GIS resources, please inquire via contact below.

is a parallel project of

Presented as part of
Hydraulic Islands, A New Media Anthology Series

Directed by Sean Connelly
Produced by After Oceanic

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