In these buildings, the distinction between internal and external slowly dissolves—the natural elements of wind, light, and water feature as much as the built aspects—befitting a temperate climate where much social activity is conducted outside. Many designs feature stylized renditions of the traditional lanai outdoor spaces—attached to the main dwelling, though not enclosed—which originated in Hawaii. Ossipoff’s inventive use of the lanai can be observed in the Outrigger Canoe Club, built in 1941 on Waikïkï Beach, where a string of breezy pergolas, leading to the sea, form what architectural historian Marc Treib called “an intimate series of zigs and zags.”
Ossipoff’s work also reflects the diagonal orientation of imperial Japanese gardens, where the staggered V-formation of the pavilions was meant to preserve an air of mystery; Ossipoff’s buildings, too, are often slow to reveal their wonders. For example, to approach his famed Liljestrand House, located high on the jungly cliffside in Honolulu’s Makiki Heights, one must first travel down a long, lush, gravel driveway. Upon finally crossing the threshold, the visitor is then ushered into a dark, wood-paneled alcove with a low-pitched roof. A few steps more, upon entering the airy living room, the darkness dissolves entirely, and the spectacular views of the Pacific and the entire glinting spread of Honolulu grandly unfurl themselves.
In 1938, cultural critic Lewis Mumford authored a 67-page report called “Whither Honolulu?”; he saw in the Pacific capital an important case study for the future of architecture. Mumford reveled in Honolulu’s dramatic geography and cultural mishmash, seeing in it the promise of an urban landscape harmonized with the natural world. However, in a city now plagued by traffic and rampant development, Mumford’s utopian vision never fully materialized. But in learning from Ossipoff’s work, in his careful readings of the nuances of place, a model for a more sustainable future arises.