Text by Bianca Sewake | Images by Jonas Maon
On Cooke Street in Our Kaka‘ako, within a colorful industrial building also home to the Hawaii Community Development Authority and a bagel shop, there is a surprisingly welcoming warehouse door open to those who pass by. Upon stepping through it into Kaka‘ako Agora, you are met with a warm, double-decker wooden structure that looks like an urban tree house—the first multi-purpose indoor park of its kind in Kaka‘ako. It is simple in design, featuring built-in bench seating and decorated only by lightbulb strands on the ceilings.
The idea of creating a large gathering space was dreamed up by non-profit organization Interisland Terminal. Since the opening of its former (and much smaller) space, R&D, the aim has been to start conversations in Honolulu about contemporary art, design, and film. After successfully hosting events including lectures, workshops, and film screenings, Interisland Terminal wanted to expand, without the commercial aspects of R&D, which involved selling coffee and books.
“Kaka‘ako Agora was sort of the 2.0 version of the vehicle that would help us achieve the goals we wanted to achieve when we first opened R&D,” says Wei Fang, director of Interisland Terminal. Without having even identified a site for the location, Fang emailed Atelier Bow-Wow, a Tokyo-based architecture firm made up of duo Yoshiharu Tsukamoto and Momoyo Kaijima.
“Atelier Bow-Wow was one of the few architecture firms in the world to work creatively in a contemporary art setting but also practically in a more social community urban setting,” says Fang. “We felt like those were two specialty areas that very few people have embodied in practice. So they were, to us, an obvious first choice.”
Despite the loose parameters of what Interisland Terminal wanted, Tsukamoto and Kaijima were happy to come on board, gathering design inspiration by observing the way people behave in the Honolulu environment. After stumbling upon the warehouse, they realized the large open space and coverage from the sun provided an ideal starting point.
For things like meeting state and federal construction codes and the practical execution of the Japanese dreamers’ design, local outside parties including Collaborative Studios, Heavy Metal Inc., and Sunworks Construction were also brought in. “It’s kind of like a multi-headed dragon where you’re juggling different kinds of objects together and keeping them all in sync,” Fang muses.
The results are simple, and strikingly so. The Agora structure was intentionally created to provide a basic and open setting. “Keeping the emptiness is also very important for imagination of new activities,” says Kaijima. Adds Tsukamoto: “We design the infrastructure for the behavior of the people rather than the final behavior itself. We let people discover the way of using the space.”
Interisland Terminal hopes people will come in to hang out with friends, take a lunch break, or make use of the free Wi-Fi to visit its website and reserve the space for events—something that is quickly gaining traction. So far, events have included free film screenings, a curated slideshow featuring local artists, theater readings, and musical showcases.
“People come in here and make themselves at home, which makes us feel really happy,” says Fang. “People are asking us, ‘Oh, how can I use the space for events of my own?’ or ‘I have an idea to do this thing, could I do it at Agora?’ And it’s really nice to see the space be a catalyst for all those ideas.”
Kaka‘ako Agora is located at 441 Cooke St. and is open to the public Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m.–4 p.m. For more information or to list an event, visit kakaakoagora.org.