Born in Honolulu, Kenneth F. Brown, FAIA, is a well-known architect, humanitarian, businessman and civic leader who has devoted much of his life to serving the community. A graduate of Princeton University, Brown served as a special assistant to Gov. John A. Burns and later as a state senator (majority floor leader, 1968-74). Brown has played an instrumental role in assuring the restoration of numerous historic buildings and sites.
Brown entered Princeton in 1937, following in the footsteps of both his older brothers. He decided to study architecture because of its “combination of logic and engineering as well as creativity.”1 Brown observed that “when you study [the] architecture of a country, you have to learn the whole culture,” and “a building or a city expresses the values of a society.”2
He graduated in June 1941 and went to work for C.W. Dickey and Associates, for a $300 a month salary, saying he “learned a whole lot.” When the war began, he worked for civil defense for a short time, then worked as a civilian employee for the U.S. Army Engineer Department. Working from Dillingham Hall auditorium, which had been converted to two floors of U.S. Army Engineer offices, he spent the early part of the war on camouflaging parts of Honolulu and the other areas of Hawai‘i, particularly gun positions. Later in the war he spent most of his time designing armament buildings, camps, towns and bridges—anything that the Army Engineers built.
After WWII he went to work for Merrill, Simms, Roerhig (successor firm to the Dickey office) for a short while and started doing work for the family company (John ‘Ï‘ï Estate). By 1950 he had started Hawaiian Designers, Ltd., his own planning, construction and architecture firm, initially sharing space with Ernie Hara, FAIA, in the Medical Arts Building. He did mostly residential projects, many for members of the Brown family, plus several clubs, restaurants and offices.
In a 1998 oral history, Brown recalled the design of the house he grew up in on Diamond Head, remembering it as a large, very open house; with big living and dining room areas that had windows that slipped up and opened to the outdoors, with no screens. His own home, which he designed in 1953, reflects the same indoor-outdoor integration of his boyhood home.
The largest house he did was for his uncle Francis in Pebble Beach, California. His uncle asked him to make the house look like it belonged in Hawai‘i, and the results certainly testify to his success in accomplishing that goal.
By the late 1950s Brown was doing less and less architecture and focusing more on the family, and other, businesses. In addition to being listed as an architect in the 1955 City Directory, he is also listed as vice-president of the Hawaii Network, Ltd. and Honolulu Armored Car Service.
Valued for his perspective and vision, he was invited to serve on many of the most important business and not-for-profit boards of directors in the State. Jeff Watanabe, a long-time business associate, offered that Brown’s gift of understanding systems (and relationships) was born of both his architectural training and his background. Brown’s close relationship to his uncle Francis, a man with one foot firmly in his Hawaiian past and the other very much in the 20th century, probably had some influence on this world view. No project that Brown has been involved in demonstrates this unique Hawaiian’s vision more than the Mauna Lani Resort development.
He has also been a big supporter of the University of Hawai‘i School of Architecture. When introduced to Dean Raymond Yeh, FAIA, one of the early discussions was about how the local AIA chapter had run the successful Pan Pacific Design Awards program for many years in the 1950s and 1960s. Dean Yeh seized upon that idea, linking it to his desire for a similar Asia-Pacific design award. According to Yeh, the program was “unique in that the focus is on balancing spiritual and material aspects of design.”
At the time, Brown served on 15 high level Boards; and he used that influence to build support for the awards program, in the form of grants for prize money. Brown also served on the first four juries of what is known as the Kenneth Brown Asia-Pacific Design Award. Brown subsequently served on the Arch.D. Program Advisory Committee as he became a supporter of the School of Architecture “on many levels,” according to Dean Yeh.
Although his bearing and upbringing were almost aristocratic, Brown’s humanism led him to the Democratic Party in the 1950s, becoming a great supporter of John Burns. Burns endorsed him in his run for lieutenant governor’s position in 1966. Although he lost that race, he then served as an administrative assistant and close advisor to Burns for two years, serving in that full-time capacity at the pay rate of exactly one dollar per year.
Brown then ran for the State Senate, serving in that body from 1968 to 1974. During that time he championed the passage of a $7,000,000 funding bill for the restoration of ‘Iolani Palace, set up to allow a private foundation to proceed with the restoration separate from state influence.
While a senator, Brown delivered personal remarks entitled “Mälama” during a July 25, 1973 seminar titled “The Spectrum of Influences Affecting Quality Growth.” His advice included multiply, if you will, within the limits of productivity, but have infinite care where you put your houses, harbors and hotels, because you must protect your land’s natural beauty and spirit of place if you are to retain and sustain your own spirit.”
Heeding such advice is probably more important today than when it was first offered in 1973.
1950 Julia White Brown Residence
1950’s Francis ‘Ï‘ï Brown Residence, Tropics Restaurant
1953 Brown Residence
1961 Bank of Hawaii and Post Office