The design of the Medal of Honor incorporates the AIA logo with symbols of Hawai’i to bring a regional relevance to the award.
A stylized maile lei drapes the medal, enclosing the Hawaiian Islands, three petroglyph figures, and a mountain form. Each of these has its own meaning:
The central mountain shape upon which the AIA symbol sits is also an abstraction of the AIA acronym. The mountain form is shaded from a rough, solid form to more polished bands, representing the creation of building materials. The rough texture of the bands of the medal are meant to suggest ‘a’a lawa in contract with the smoother, polished metal, signifying pahoehoe lava. The three petroglyph features represent builders.
Instead of a conventional ribbon, the medal if hung from a kukui nut lei. The kukui is the Hawaii State tree. In ancient Hawaii kukui nuts were used for lighting and are used here as a symbol of the enlightenment characteristics of winners of the Medal of Honor.
According to the medal designer, Momi Cazimero, the medal attempts “to portray teamwork,” a guiding principle of successful architecture. “It is conveyed through the design, which assembles ‘parts’ that become a harmonious ‘whole.'”