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Pan Pacific, Metropolitan Tower

Courtesy of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners

While working on East-West Center, Pei met Raymond Yap, an enterprising physician and developer eager to maximize the opportunities generated by Hawaii’s recent statehood (1959). To alleviate a shortage of office space in downtown Honolulu, Pei designed an innovative 30-story office tower intersected near its base by a horizontal element that spans over the street to connect with the recently completed and hugely successful Ala Moana Shopping Center.

In a way that had not been done before, the architectural concrete tower was designed to channel all of its loads to massive notched piers in its four corners. The piers are spanned by 80-foot-long spandrel beams to create column-free office floors for complete flexibility in interior use. The spandrels also serve as sunscreens for the outdoor terraces on each floor, offering panoramic views in all directions. The tower’s sculptural abstraction and bold technological prowess won Progressive Architecture Magazine’s “First Design Award” in 1961 in competition with 506 other entries. The judges enthusiastically praised the strength and originality of the design, declaring it “revolutionary…a new freedom in tower building” that would influence future approaches to high-rise construction. Although Pei was not overly interested in office buildings, preferring institutional work instead, he made a significant contribution to tall building design with Pan-Pacific Center, just as he had with the Hyperboloid several years earlier, and would again in the incredibly innovative Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong.

For various reasons, Pan-Pacific Center was not executed, but Pei was able to put his innovative structural concept to use several years later at Wilmington Tower.


Floor plans / Courtesy of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners

The project received Progressive Architecture’s 8th Annual Design Award in 1961.

Design Team: I.M. Pei, Design Partner; Pershing Wong, Design Architect
I.M. Pei & Associates