Hilo-grown design architects celebrate coveted global land development award

  • Courtesy photo Rob Iopa, far left, and Carl Okazaki, second from right, join developer Taubmean Centers Inc. at the ULI Fall Meeting in Washington, D.C., where the ULI Global Award for Excellence was presented.

The revitalized International Market Place in Honolulu was recognized as a 2019 Urban Land Institute Global Award for Excellence recipient, honored alongside just 10 projects from around the world in one of the design and development industry’s most prestigious awards.

Rob Iopa, president of Honolulu-based WCIT Architecture, and Carl Okazaki, partner at 505Design, both design architects with roots in Hilo, joined the developer as representatives of the design team during the ULI Fall Meeting in Washington, D.C., where the award was presented.

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“It was an honor to represent and celebrate Hawaii on a global stage,” Iopa said. “It’s always fulfilling to be recognized for our work — work that looks to design places and spaces that respect and perpetuate our culture and communities. IMP was a special opportunity to honor Waikiki’s past while look forward to its future.”

As fate would have it, Iopa and Okazaki, both born and raised in Hilo, would come together to work on IMP’s design under the direction of developer Taubman Centers Inc. WCIT was tasked with cultural and historical research and guidance, as well as the architectural design of IMP’s open spaces, courtyards and water features. 505Design was responsible for retail design, environmental graphics and signage.

The two met at the project’s initial design charettes in 2007.

“It was a serendipitous meeting,” Iopa said. “All I knew of Carl was that he was a partner in a design firm with offices in San Francisco, Calif., and Boulder, Colo. He and I started talking about our backgrounds and he mentioned being born and raised in Hilo. I said, ‘Me, too …Waiakea.’ He said, ‘Hilo.’ We immediately understood each other. To connect through this project and be able to collaborate together was very cool.”

Okazaki, a Hilo High School graduate, left the islands after high school to attend college in New York. From there, he studied and worked in Arizona and Colorado before settling in California. While his life is now on the mainland, Okazaki still visits Hawaii, and Hilo, often.

“I was just there a couple of months ago,” he said. “As a designer, I always gravitate towards communities that have a strong sense of identity. Hilo, in particular, remains raw and authentic, and its people humble and hardworking. I’m fortunate to visit home often.”

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The ULI Global Awards for Excellence are widely recognized as the development industry’s most distinguished awards.

“We’re proud to see a project in Hawaii receive this recognition,” Okazaki said. “Working with Rob and his firm allowed me to collaborate with others who had a common pride and respect for Hawaii. There’s a shared cultural knowledge and understanding that comes from growing up in the islands that’s difficult to communicate to those who don’t have common experience. As a designer, there is truly nothing more gratifying.”

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