Inturrupting US Urbanism and removing the figure of the Ala Wai Canal from Waikīkī.
At the heart of Waikīkī, a new chapter is unfolding. The Ala Wai Centennial Memorial Project aims to transform our understanding of public art, land use, and our relationship with the environment with a call to recover Hawaiian fishponds and taro fields as a fresh approach to culturally driven social justice and climate change issues.
Proposed Memorial Concept
A Vision for Hawai‘i Futures
Ala Wai means waterway, and is the namesake of both the watershed and the 2-mile canal that form Waikīkī, the primary economic tourist district of Honolulu located on the Hawaiian Island of O‘ahu. The Ala Wai Canal, which marks the inland boundary of Waikīkī, has a unique and contentious history. The canal is currently turning 100 years old between 2021-2028.
The Ala Wai Centennial Memorial Project seeks to revitalize 350 acres of existing open space in Waikīkī, from forest to the canal, including the public transformation of a municipal golf course and portions of the Fort DeRussy Military Reservation into land for Native sustenance. This monumental task involves reimagining how Hawai‘i History is integrated into some of Honolulu’s most prominent civic spaces, including various existing resources such as a small boat harbor, a canoe club, a regional park system, and a historic outdoor amphitheater all physically connected to the contentions regional construction of the famed Waikīkī Beach; Diamond Head State Monument; National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl via the channelized tributaries of Maikiki Stream; selected schools and universities in the Ala Wai watershed; and the O‘ahu military seacoast defense fortification that stretched around the island from Waikīkī to Kahuku.
The land art concept aims to confront the contentious history of U.S. Urbanism in Hawai‘i and catalyze the practical, real-world healing of Waikīkī. Specifically, the land art project advocates for the reclamation of 70-acre Fort DeRussy Military Reservation as wetland fishpond (loko i‘a), then expands to encompasses at least 350 acres of existing open space landscape surrounding the Ala Wai Canal. The outcome is to heal the history Waikīkī in the ecological and biocultural recovery achieved through a constellation of networked sites from Fort DeRussy and the canal, outward.
Ala Wai Centennial uses the study of the Ala Wai Canal to reintroduce the concept of Honolulu and its history to the United States. Born from the U.S Territorial Government's efforts to drain the wetlands of Waikīkī for the purposes of displacing native cultivation with industrial agriculture, military occupation, and tourism and urbanization between 1898 and 1928, the Ala Wai Canal was never completed according to its original plan and now flows polluted and stagnant with risks of catastrophic flooding. The canal evolved as a manifestation of American economic influence in Hawai‘i.
The unjust dredging of the Ala Wai Canal in conjunction with the physical militarization of the island by the US Government between specifically destabilized the Native food system of O‘ahu. It displaced Native Hawaiians and farmers of culture at the same time as their language was repressed. This began with the construction of Fort DeRussy (1909-1911) and culminated in the fatefully incomplete formation of the Ala Wai Canal (1921-1928). The reclamation project, as part of a larger military defense network, interconnected with other military sites at Le‘ahi (Diamond Head Military Reservation), Fort Armstrong, Fort Schafter, and Fort Kamehameha. And, equipped with a rail gun that whipped around the island of O‘ahu from the naval station at Pu‘uloa (Pearl Harbor) to Hale‘iwa, and onward.
Today, it is viewed as a scar, a reminder of an unjust reclamation project that destabilized the native food system and displaced indigenous Hawaiians. The Ala Wai Centennial Memorial Project aims to heal this scar, both physically and psychically. The project plans to clean the Ala Wai Canal and adapt the surrounding areas to contemporary challenges. Using the Hawai‘i Futures Framework for Ahupua‘a Recovery, a strategy that blends American land-use planning with native Hawaiian resource management and biocultural restoration, the project will apply architectural techniques to reimagine the past and the future of the canal and its surrounding spaces.
Impact, Engagement, Healing, and Transformation
The project applies a radical feminist architectural approach to history, theory, visual information mapping, and conceptual planning to reimagine the past and future of “non-linear waikiki.”
As a public art project and climate justice initiative, this ambitious project represents more than a physical reconfiguration of the land. It is a statement of hope and resilience, a way to memorialize the past and envision a future that honors indigenous knowledge and celebrates cultural and ecological values. The memorial will amplify awareness of the need for climate justice, challenge our perspectives on urban spaces, and become a significant symbol of public health, food security, and wealth.
The Ala Wai Centennial Memorial Project, inspired by the work of artists such as Maya Lin, aspires to transcend its physical presence and become a beacon of hope, exemplifying the spirit of healing and recovery. It stands as a testament to the significance of sacred spaces and a call for us to rethink how we engage with the Earth's resources.
Healing the Ala Wai Canal represents a significant step towards addressing conflict, pandemic, and climate change. It's more than a call to restore a waterway; it's a cry for cultural, ecological, and non-militarized solutions to global challenges. This vision is not a solitary one but is to be shared and advocated by the public, amplifying its impact and solidifying its significance.
Engagement with the Ala Wai Centennial Memorial Project is an opportunity for everyone to contribute to a more sustainable, inclusive, and diverse future. Each individual has a role to play, from policymakers and urban planners to artists and educators, to local residents and visitors from around the world. Whether it's volunteering for clean-up operations, participating in educational events, or supporting the initiative financially, there are many ways to get involved and help realize this ambitious project.
The Ala Wai Centennial Memorial Project represents a pivotal moment in the history of Honolulu and Hawai‘i as a whole. It's a turning point, marking a new chapter in our relationship with the environment, public spaces, and the history that shapes us. By restoring the Ala Wai Canal and its surroundings, we're not just healing a scar on the land; we're also healing our collective past, present, and future. This project encapsulates a vision of transformation, a future where urban development and environmental stewardship coexist harmoniously, where history is acknowledged and reconciled, and where public spaces serve as memorials and catalysts for change. As we look forward to the next hundred years, let's honor the legacy of the Ala Wai Canal by transforming it into a symbol of healing, unity, and resilience for all. Through the Ala Wai Centennial Memorial Project, we can make a lasting impact on our environment and our communities, setting a global precedent for how we understand, interact with, and honor our natural world.
Ala Wai Centennial Memorial Project originally began as 2006 public art project called “Decolonizing Architecture.” The project launched as a website in 2010 called www.Hawaii-Futures.com that featured an innovative series of pre-NFT infographics diagraming a “framework for ahupua‘a recovery.” With the support of the Santa Fe Art Institute, Taiji and Naoko Terasaki Family Foundation, and the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, Hawai‘i Futures was expanded into the Ala Wai Centennial Memorial Project, launched as www.alawaicentennial.org in 2017 accompanied by the mobile community studio called “Holodeck Ahupua‘a.” Since 2020, Ala Wai Centennial has been highlighted in CityLab, Places Journal, and as been utilized as the focus of architectural design studios at Columbia University and MIT. With the momentum to produce change and healing at larger and larger scales, Ala Wai Centennial Memorial project is produced by After oceanic, was fiscally sponsored by the non-profit Protect Our Ala Wai Watershed between 2020-2021, and is now under the umbrella of Hawai‘i Nonlinear 501c3.