Vladimir Nicholas Ossipoff (1907-1998) was affectionately dubbed the “Dean of Hawai‘i’s Architects” of Hawai‘i. Born in Russia, raised in Japan, and educated at UC Berkeley, Ossipoff eventually settled in Hawai‘i in 1931.
As it was aptly stated almost two decades ago and in the last year of his life, Vladimir (Val) Ossipoff made it easy for the past presidents of the Hawaii Council to inaugurate this prestigious award. While there was no question then, that Val had advanced the profession of architecture, and through his leadership, provided inspiration to his colleagues, I wonder what unique aspects of his contributions still resonate with us today and how can we utilize them for the future?
In regard to professional advancement, the design work of the Ossipoff office demonstrated a commitment to the modern architectural genre with a deep understanding of the specifics of Hawai‘i’s culture and climate. Perhaps it was Val’s aristocratic upbringing in Japan which instilled an appreciation of elegance and respect for nature, which shaped his unique and worldly perspective. The genius of what Glenn Mason called the “easy three” – the Outrigger Canoe Club, the Pacific Club and Thurston Memorial Chapel at Punahou School – provides a glimpse of Ossipoff’s architectural fusion of over one thousand commissions.
As a leader, Val spoke clearly and sparingly. Often saying the unexpected, which later in his career, made words feel like a sharp axe splitting heavy timber. Skeptical clients were rendered speechless with aphorisms such as: “you will like it when you see it” or “let me do it for you.” One longtime colleague, called him the ultimate samurai. With his no-nonsense approach, Val led mainly by example. His designs spoke for themselves and he acted with conviction and purpose. He declared a War On Ugliness during his second stint as AIA Hawaii Chapter President in 1964 to lobby for more effective zoning laws in burgeoning Honolulu. His 1978 article in the Honolulu Advertiser urged the need for reducing energy use in buildings and environmentally sensitive design. In 1974, he served as the director of the AIA Northwest Region. At the national level, in 1986, Val served as Chancellor of the College of Fellows.
Ultimately, it was because of his firm’s exceptional design work and his active leadership among his professional colleagues nation-wide and locally that Vladimir Ossipoff, FAIA, was the recipient of the first AIA Medal of Honor in the 50th State. This year, this highest honor will bestowed upon an equally distinguished, deserving and long serving leader, Donald Goo, FAIA.
1951 Hawaiian Life Building
1951 Ward Residence
1952 Liberty Bank & Office Building
1950-55 Mary Persis Winne Classrooms, Punahou Elementary School
1952 Liljestrand Residence
1954 Goodsill House
1955 Cooke House
1957 McInerny Waikīkī Store
1961 Thurston Memorial Chapel
1961 Pacific Club (Contributing Architect)
1963 Outrigger Canoe Club (Contributing Architect)
1963 IBM Building