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University signage of Hawaiian place names, cultural knowledge wins international award

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A sign in place in front of the Isabella Aiona Abbott Life Sciences Building. Photo Courtesy: University of Hawai‘i

New bilingual signage based on kānaka ʻōiwi (Native Hawaiian) knowledge and values at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa received the 2023 World Changing Ideas Award in the Art and Design category.

Fast Company’s World-Changing Ideas Awards honor the innovative ways businesses and organizations are making the world more accessible, equitable, and sustainable for everyone.

The project is spearheaded by the University of Hawai‘i Community Design Center at the University of Hawai‘i Mānoa School of Architecture, led by principal investigator Brian Strawn and co-investigator Karla Sierralta, along with a team of staff, student research assistants and graduate students.


The University of Hawai‘i-based team co-designed the new wayfinding system together with Nalani Kanaka‘ole, Sig Zane, and Kūhaʻo Zane of Sig Zane Designs.

There are currently two signs in place in front of the Isabella Aiona Abbott Life Sciences Building and Bilger Hall. Ultimately, signs featuring the new design will be placed in front of a total of 21 of the campus’ main buildings in a multi-phase project expected to be completed by 2030.

The signs invite viewers to take part in a kānaka ʻōiwi body alignment practice like those that traditionally occur at some heiau (temples). Each sign will gesture toward different landmarks in and around Mānoa, such as the Waʻahila Ridge or Lēʻahi (Diamond Head) on the coast.



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