Hawaii’s state capitol building reflects a spirit of openness and beauty in its architecture and attitude. Rather than a dome, the building is topped with an open space that gives the rotunda a celestial ceiling. When I visited yesterday, bright blue sky and white clouds provided a natural mural more inspiring than anything painted on a chapel ceiling. On inclement days, the rain would also drop in unimpeded.

Directly below the circular opening in the ceiling is a huge, round mosaic on the floor. A plaque identifies it as “Aquarius”, a glass mosaic installed in 1969 by artist Tadashi Sato. It takes on slightly different aspects when viewed from the entry way or each of the four levels of walkways above. It looks like the ocean, with varying shades of blue.

There are also openings in the corners of the entryway, where the chambers of the House of Representatives and Senate are sloped to call to mind the volcanoes that formed these islands. Large open entries face the street one side and the capitol mall on the other. The building is surrounded by a reflecting pool. The state website says the water in the pool represents the Pacific Ocean that surrounds Hawaii. The columns around the exterior of the building represent Hawaii’s palm trees.

If you look closely in the photo accompanying this post, you can see people standing on one of the balconies and in the entry-way below. They give you an idea of how large and open this space is. And yet, it feels like a community building – there is a sense of activity rather than the hush of a museum or the despair of many drab office buildings. It is here that the people of Hawaii gather as a body politic to conduct state business.

The location of the building itself also contrasts with other state capitols I have visited and in which I worked. Many of them are domed replicas of the U.S. capitol building that sit in a large square surrounded by parking lots, expanses of lawn, statues and, often, guards. The Hawaii state capitol is right on the street, near busy bus stops and pedestrian access to nearby buildings and museums. It is easy to stop in for a quick visit – to contact a government representative, testify at a hearing, or just admire the view.

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