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Chair Preserves Architect's Legacy

April 1, 2016
  • Etherington Family

When one thinks of the word "architecture," what usually comes to mind is the form of a structure, such as its shape, size and design. A fundamental and often overlooked part of architecture is that every structure is not only a formation, but also a complex network of parts and pieces that must coexist within the natural surrounding environment. This philosophy formed the basis of Alfred Bruce Etherington's life work, to construct affordable housing that coexists with nature for the poor throughout the world.

"Bruce had a lifelong interest in material science, material properties and in living responsibly on the land," said Daniel Friedman, dean of UH Mānoa's School of Architecture. "I think his adopted home of Hawai'i reinforced his own intuitive fidelity to the idea of principled design and construction."

In 1963, renowned architect Alfred Bruce Etherington observed the existing "system" that was the two-year pre-architecture program at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa and saw potential for improvement. Still in its infancy, architecture courses were offered through the art department and were not yet part of a formal degree program. 

Fueled by his unrelenting commitment to the field, he established the Architecture Department within the College of Arts and Sciences, served as the department's first chair, and established both the four-year pre-architecture undergraduate degree program and the pre-professional programs in landscape architecture and interior design. 

A few years later, the students of the program transformed an abandoned building and built the architecture program's first home, Hale Aloha, using refurbished construction materials and donated material. Understanding the relationship between human activity and the natural surrounding environment is not only necessary for building sustainable structures and systems, but also can elevate the quality of life for those in need. 

Etherington's passion extended beyond the university and into the far reaches of the world, where he helped to develop low cost, quality housing alternatives for people living in impoverished regions. His mortarless interlocking concrete block system enabled people to build their own homes, affordably, within a matter of days. These homes are not only economically efficient, but also structurally durable for those living in areas with harsh weather conditions. As a result, his systems have been adopted by governments, private developers and humanitarian agencies in Central America, Mexico, East Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and elsewhere to help raise the quality of living for many subjected to poor living conditions. 

In remembrance of Etherington's long and distinguished service to the school and his work in Third World countries, a portion of his estate will establish the A. Bruce Etherington Endowed Chair for the Study of Human and Natural Systems at the UH Mānoa School of Architecture. His legacy of education, architecture and community service will live on through the chair, which seeks to support a faculty member for the School of Architecture to research and develop educational programs related to the study of human and natural systems. 

"I'm confident the Etherington chair will help create new horizons of research and design inquiry for our students, and help us realize the true potential of this topic," said Friedman. "For many generations to come, the first endowed chair in the history of the program - fittingly endowed by its founder - promises to significantly advance professional knowledge and enrich the public interest."

If you would like to learn how you can support UH students and programs like this, please contact us at 808 376-7800 or send us a message.