Hawaii’s art of the state


The last place you’d expect to find a tourist in Honolulu is at the state capitol, but that’s exactly where we headed when we landed here today.

It’s a work of art. The Bauhaus-style building is rich with symbolism, from the reflecting pool surrounding the structure, which represents the Pacific Ocean, to the long columns that look like coconut trees — one for each of the Hawaiian islands.

The capitol’s open design goes far beyond the open roof (pictured above) and courtyard.

Hawaii’s legislature is among the most open in practice. There’s a room for members of the general public, where they can access their elected representatives, and its open-records efforts are among the most ambitious in the country.

Mike McCartney, who served as a state senator before recently becoming president of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, and who offered us a tour of the building, said the design of the capitol fostered a more transparent government.

“Anyone can see who is going into your office,” he said.

It’s hard to keep anything from the public when the people’s business is being conducted in the glare of the sunlight.

McCartney introduced us to several of his friends in the legislature, including Sen. David Ige (pictured to the right, next to McCartney).

The House and Senate chambers are accessible from ground level, and their sessions can be viewed by pedestrians through one of the enormous windows or by sitting in the large visitor galleries. They’re also remarkable, from an architectural point of view. Their cone shapes resemble volcanoes, and the chandeliers are shaped like the sun and moon.

It’s government, Hawaii-style. And it’s art. What more could you want?

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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