Tropical Transistions

The transition sequences of Vladimir Ossipoff’s architecture.

Liljestrand House: Arrival

As I follow Bob Liljestrand up the winding roads of Makiki Heights, he quickly pulls over to point out, “you see that over there”, I look to the very top of the mountain peak, “THAT is where we are going.” I see a structure just peeking out of the thick forest on the top of a mountain. We continue to cut back and forth up switchbacks, and I start to feel the forest coming in closer and closer. As we inch closer to the top I felt I had to slow down from the pressure of the impeding forest, as if the road was getting more and more narrow, and the trees were getting taller. Then I roll down my window for some air and breathe in the soothing smell of eucalyptus trees.

We pull into the driveway and I am now moving at a snail’s pace to avoid long hanging vines from the vine wrapped eucalyptus. Chickens cross the road, and a cat is laid-out to the side warming on the pavement, all these animals full-knowing that there is no way that I would dare move fast enough to hit them. Just when I think the forest couldn’t get any tighter, relief opens up and I see the Liljestrand House ahead.


Liljestrand House by Vladimir Ossipoff, 1952. Photos: Chelsea Anderson

Liljestrand House: Arrival

As I get out and walk downhill viewing the house from above and it appears almost small, and quiet, not trying to draw any attention to itself. As I move under the carport it immediately becomes cool and dark, then darker yet as I turn under the breezeway toward the front door. I feel as if I am about to enter a spa with the architecture immediately sending over a sense of calm. Then I take off my shoes and feel the slick, polished concrete, a cool relief from the hot sun. As I enter the house through a well-crafted, but unassuming front door, not revealing any clues of what I will find inside.

Liljestrand House by Vladimir Ossipoff, 1952. Photo: Chelsea Anderson


Liljestrand House: Reveal

When I enter into the foyer, the light is low and dark and I walk to my right into the living room space and see that we are looking down onto Honolulu as if it is a city made for ants at about one thousand feet above. I watch closely and I can see small airplanes taking off at the airport, and I know what I arrived to Honolulu on and that is no small airplane. With a closet wall blocking my view to my left, I then move around it to see the full Honolulu skyline and Diamond Head in the distance.

As I get the full perspective, it now feels as though the house is hovering over Honolulu and you could jump right in. As I stand in awe of the view, Bob says to me, “you know I always tell people the entrance to the house begins when the forest starts coming in”.

Liljestrand House by Vladimir Ossipoff, 1952. Photo: Chelsea Anderson


I experienced what Bob was talking about, and what Vladimir Ossipoff was trying to enhance about the natural qualities of this site. He made sure not to reveal any of the view at the front of the house, and once you entered he deliberately broke up the stages in which you would initially see the view. I came to realize through viewing so many of Ossipoff’s buildings, that transitions were very important to the experience he was trying to encourage. They were subtle and could go by unnoticed, but even though many times it may be unconscious, you are always affected by them. I believe this may have come from his experience in Japanese gardens from where he was raised, as this is a trick often played, of hiding and revealing at precise times.


Robert Thurston Jr. Memorial Chapel

The Robert Thurston Jr. Memorial Chapel sits at Punahoe School, and architect Nate Smith who attended as a child says he remembers all the kids running to church service and the second they would hit the stairs they would slow down and become quiet. It would cause a physical shift over the children without them even knowing it. Ossipoff says about the sweeping eaves of chapel roof, “to gain shelter as a little chick must do when seeking shelter under its mother hens outspread wings.” The building form and sunken chapel area was a deliberate design decision to bring students into a space where they feel comfort and security. Where most churches ascend and reach to the heavens, this chapel reaches down to the people.

Robert Shipman Thurston Jr., Memorial Chapel, Punahoe School by Vladimir Ossipoff, 1967. Photo: Chelsea Anderson.


The Goodsill House

The Goodsill house sits in a quaint post-war suburban neighborhood, and appears to be a typical suburban house from the street. The front of the house is very quiet and hidden behind large trees and bushes. To enter you must wind around these bushes to find a gate at the side of the house. You then move under a large roof along the side of the house and enter the generous lanai. From here you can choose where to enter the house, as it is divided into three volumes under one roof, a living area, master bedroom, and kid’s bedrooms, but there is no single front door. The focus of this house is the central courtyard, which today, has wonderfully mature plants and trees.

Goodsill House by Vladimir Ossipoff, 1952. Photo: Chelsea Anderson


Outrigger Canoe Club

As I walk down the sidewalk of a busy street off of a popular public park just on the edge of Waikiki I see the sign for Outrigger Canoe Club. I turn into the circle drive and am sheltered by a tall tree. I keep walking under a pergola wrapped with a Hau tree and move into a lush tropical garden. As I move through the meandering pathway, every so often I make a turn, and every so often I incline a few steps. It feels quiet, like I should slow down and listen for where to go. As I notice my surroundings I begin to get glimpses of a structure peeking through the vegetation. Sometimes it’s a bit of an overhanging roof, sometimes it’s a stone textured wall, then bits of railing.

Outrigger Canoe Club by Vladimir Ossipoff, 1963. Photo: Chelsea Anderson

I move under a roof into a dark covered space. As I keep walking I start to see bits of light pouring down between intentional gaps between the roof and the wall. I can start to hear water and people chatting in the distance. The energy leads me towards the main clubhouse with an expansive view of the ocean and Waikiki in the distance. The space is filled with active energy of people talking, eating, surfers diving into the water, and docked canoes bouncing around in the waves.


Outrigger Canoe Club by Vladimir Ossipoff, 1963. Photo: Chelsea Anderson

There are lots of people, but it feels small with people divided into different zones by different architectural elements. A formal dining space is at the highest elevation under large beams and a long extending roof. A few steps down are a bar and a casual dining space. The dining area opens under a pergola wrapped in a Hau tree. A few more steps down to the seawall edge and there are tables with umbrellas for an even more casual setting in beach attire. To walk down to the last steps, you meet sand in an artificial beach Ossipoff created beside the clubhouse structure. People recline in chaise lounges under umbrellas, or just out on a towel in the sand. An elevated sand volleyball court looks down onto the beach above the locker rooms and in front of the parking deck.

Outrigger Canoe Club by Vladimir Ossipoff, 1963. Photo: Chelsea Anderson

A walkway leads you below to a maze of locker rooms and then a circular staircase leads to volleyball and parking. The complex has a relaxed attitude, and it feels like a cool place to be without trying at all.

Outrigger Canoe Club by Vladimir Ossipoff, 1963. Photo: Chelsea Anderson


University of Hawaii Administration Building

An architect has a unique opportunity when they get asked to design a chapel, it is a space that is intended for reflection and devotion and it encourages unique architectural design. I feel the true gift lies in the architect who can design an everyday space to feel like a chapel. I feel Ossipoff in collaboration with Preis, Johnson and Fisk accomplished this with the University of Hawaii Administration Building.

As you enter from any direction into the central courtyard and follow the path of the lanai, it causes you to slow down and notice the palms flowing in the breeze, your breath, the dappled light through the screens and the feeling of the air on your skin. This type of awareness and devotion I believe is necessary when preparing for academic study. I think this was specifically designed for the many who study on this campus and devote themselves to their research or craft as if it is their religion.

University of Hawaii Administration Building by Fisk, Johnson, Ossipoff, and Preis, 1949. Photo: Chelsea Anderson


The ascending stairs in the lobby, give a regal uplifting feeling, one that lifts up one’s confidence as they go to embark on a great challenge that is their journey in their education.

University of Hawaii Administration Building by Fisk, Johnson, Ossipoff, and Preis, 1949. Photo: Chelsea Anderson


University of Hawaii Administration Building by Fisk, Johnson, Ossipoff, and Preis, 1949. University of Hawaii Archives.

The phenomenological qualities to Ossipoff’s work are one of the reasons I came to Hawaii to discover. It is not something that cannot be understood from reading a book or looking at an image, it has to be experienced. I am very grateful to Clemson and the Mickel family for this amazing opportunity.

AuthorChelsea Anderson

Award-winning architect Chelsea Anderson is the founder and lead architect of Habitable Form and lecturer for the Clemson University Graduate School of Architecture at the Clemson Design Center Charleston.

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