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How biomimicry inspired the design of NOAA’s New Pacific Regional Center in Hawaii

Hydronic passive cooling and ventilation supported by a seawater well are among the nature-inspired features at the new NOAA regional center.
July 17, 2013 |
Life at HOK

Thanks to Paul Woolford, AIA, IIDA, LEED AP BD+C, design director in HOK’s San Francisco office, for this post describing the design of the new National Oceanic at Atmospheric Administration Pacific Regional Center in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Scheduled to open in December, this will be one of the country’s most environmentally innovative national historic landmarks. 


Our National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Pacific Regional Center project is in Honolulu on Oahu’s Ford Island, where the Pearl Harbor attacks occurred.

When it opens later this year, all the administrative functions that NOAA requires to monitor the weather across the Pacific Ocean will be headquartered here. The facility includes offices and labs, a tsunami warning center, the national marine sanctuaries, national monuments under the sea and state parks.

The project is renovating and adapting two giant World War II-era aircraft hangars and constructing a new building between them on a national historic landmark site. The hangars were designed by Albert Kahn and built for the war effort.

To inspire the design, we looked to the mission of the NOAA, which is responsible for monitoring climate, weather, oceans and coasts. This led to design ideas featuring air, light and water.

We repurposed and restored the hangars with a design that treats them as a giant shed, or shell, that is three stories tall, 700 feet long, 250 feet wide and open inside. A simple glass-and-steel pavilion unites these two historic structures and mediates the open space between them. The new architecture is distinct from the historic buildings while providing a quiet complement.

Inside the shed is a 350,000-square-foot government office and research campus. It has a central quadrangle and interior courtyards that allow us to drive daylight and ventilation deep into the building. The physically occupied space is stepped up in the middle of the structure so that it appears to be hanging in the rafters.

Read the full post at Life at HOK. 



About the Author: John Gilmore brings the story of HOK to life for the world, literally. As a senior writer based in St. Louis, his words shine an intelligent light on the people, projects and experiences of the firm on the web, in print and in speeches given all over the globe. More posts by John Gilmore.

Life at HOK | HOK

HOK is a global design, architecture, engineering and planning firm. Through a network of 24 offices, HOK provides design excellence and innovation to create places that enrich people's lives and help clients succeed. Life at HOK is a group blog authored by the firm’s creative people across the world. Visit

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