Featured Member - Michael Ka’ainoni, AIA

As a Native Hawaiian and mentor, Michael Ka’ainoni encourages diverse experiences and knowledge gathering to expand architects' ideas about what design can be.

Michael Ka’ainoni, AIA, is a project architect at Alakea Design Group in Honolulu, Hawaii. As a Native Hawaiian, Mike represents the diversity of the entire AIA community; not necessarily because of his cultural background but because of his unique thoughts on mentorship.

My passion for architecture can be traced back to a young age. I was introduced to drawing and building through the exposure of sketch pencils and Legos. Submerging myself in numerous tasks developed a diversity of skillsets that would alter the way I see design.

During high school I was involved in the arts, which brought a broad range of topics to explore. I stumbled upon free-hand drawing courses; they taught me that the act of drawing could be expressed using a wide set of media. Ink pens, graphite pencils, and paint brushes informed me that consistently drawing the same subject matter—in my case, buildings—could result in many different forms of expression. It was this discovery that led to my interest in architecture and my continued desire to learn how to evaluate problems through different approaches.

The most humbling experience that affected my outlook toward architecture traces back to travels during my college career. I was privileged to attend the University of Southern California, where I earned my Bachelors in Architecture. At USC I had my first exposure to traveling internationally; I was able to study architecture and experience various cultures in Europe.

For more on mentoring and the path to licensure, visit AIA's home for Emerging Professionals.

Attending Columbia University for my Masters in Architecture extended my exposure by allowing me to visit the East Asian region, as well as remote areas of Africa. Seeing how architecture can be expressed, and how it responds in a variety of ways, changed how I approach designing my own projects. Realizing how architecture can address cultural stimuli forced me to keep an unbiased mind, so as not to discredit any potential influences that might enhance a project.

It was clear that my career in architecture would be an extension of my academic discipline, focused on diversifying my work environments, projects, and research approach. Quickly understanding that no two projects are the same triggered my interest in collecting valuable knowledge from different sources, ranging from publications, narratives from locals, or questions to professionals from various fields. Information gathering enriched my critical thinking and often produced a novel design by reflecting details from multiple sources. It was no surprise that the value of a multifarious approach in problem-solving is what I relay to those entering the field.

It would be erroneous to ask who my favorite architect or most valuable mentor might be. It would be far more relevant to ask me what memorable moments shaped my career and my perspective on architecture. Every opportunity that I have encountered has directly influenced the way I approach the profession; as such, I encourage diverse experiences and seek travel opportunities for personal development. In order to perpetuate the eclectic nature of the profession, practitioners need to push the envelope by expanding the personal experiences and knowledge that translates into their creations. —As told to Jason Takeuchi, Assoc. AIA

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Image credits

Michael Ka’ainoni - hero

Michael Ka’ainoni, AIA

Hale Kewalo - Michael Ka’ainoni

Michael Ka’ainoni, AIA

Omantel Municipality - Michael Ka’ainoni

Michael Ka’ainoni, AIA