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NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Daniel K. Inouye Pacific Regional Center

The new headquarters for all NOAA operations in the Pacific Ocean occupies two adaptively-re-used World War II-era Aircraft hangers in Pearl Harbor.

Adapted from “NOAA Inouye Regional Center,” Architectural Record (August 2015)

The Daniel K. Inouye Regional Center is the new home for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Hawaii.

With NOAA’s mission spanning from oceans to skies, its Ford Island facility needed to bring together diverse entities—from the National Weather Service Pacific Region Headquarters and Tsunami Warning Center to national centers for environmental satellites and data, marine fisheries and sanctuaries, oceanic and atmospheric research, and others.

Ford Island, today a National Historic Landmark at Pearl Harbor, was a sacred locus for ancient Hawaiian fertility rites before it became the U.S. Navy strategic operations base that the Japanese attacked on December 7, 1941. The twin hangars that now anchor the Inouye Center narrowly escaped devastation as planes on the tarmac were hit and, nearby, the USS Utah was sunk. The hangars, designed by Detroit-based Albert Kahn, were completed just months before the attack and remained intact.

But by 2005, with the airfield inactive for decades, these great sheds stood abandoned. An historic review at the project’s onset, though, ensured their survival, with exteriors untouched.

NOAA’s goals included consolidating departments, offices, and labs scattered across Oahu. Accommodating 800 employees, the new facility links the historic hangars with a central entry structure, echoing the industrial aesthetic and rectilinear rhythms of the original buildings while distinguishing old from new. Now themes of ocean and air draw you into the 300,000-square-foot build-ing through the new recessed entry bay, with views straight to the water behind, where NOAA’s research vessels are moored.

Critical to NOAA’s mission is sustainability, and the center—on track for LEED Gold—is particularly innovative in its cooling system. Evoking the albizia samans tree, it draws on passive means to self-modulate temperature, humidity, and ventilation. Rooftop scoops capture prevailing trade winds, channeling them across point-chilled coils of water from geothermal undersea wells. The heavier, cooled air forms downdrafts, dropping into vertical supply chimneys, while buoyant warmer air rises to exhaust vents. When outside temperatures dip below 65 degrees, the system reverses itself, assisted by heating, instead of cooling, coils. With natural stack and venturi effects, no mechanical fans are needed, though the point-chilling does require conventionally generated energy. As condensation on the coils feeds a graywater system and the roof funnels rainfall into bioswales, no gray- or stormwater leaves the site.

Favoring native materials, the building’s forecourt is paved in Hawaiian basalt, leading from a parking lot still studded with aircraft tie-downs from its days as a runway. The volcanic pavers continue into the soaring, skylit, triple-height lobby, alongside ohia, a local hardwood. This central space does double duty for gathering and exhibitions, with displays including live NOAA satellite feeds. Within the flanking hangars, the design inserted two additional floor levels, reusing the original steel structure, with open work areas, walkways, and stairs overlooking the lobby. Ohia screens—reminiscent of Hawaiian lanais, or porches—veil the glassed-in work floors. Throughout the building, rooftop diffusers, translucent partitions, and multiheight spaces bring daylight deep inside, illuminating a vast footprint of 730 by 270 feet.

Casual communal spaces, generous circulation routes, and clear sight lines—plus an auditorium, library, airy cafeteria, and outdoor deck—foster employee collaboration.

“Geographic proximity is everything,” says site manager Steven Gallagher. “Pantries are positioned for sharing among departments. Adjacencies lead to interaction without a trip across town.”

Now marine-mammal and fisheries teams abut each other; research vessels dock near related labs; and a repurposed aircraft shed houses rehab tanks for endangered monk seals and Hawaiian sea turtles.

Hawaiian Senator Inouye, who was dedicated to educating children about the ocean, played a key role in realizing this $135 million project. When he died before its completion, it was named in his honor and has already fulfilled such aspirations of his as science and ocean camps for students. “Many things are possible here that we could never do before, and this design anticipates growth,” says Gallagher. “Now NOAA is talking about importing this model—for sustainable design, adaptive reuse, and consolidation—to all its centers.”

At a Glance

  • Honolulu, HI
  • LEED Gold