Punahou Names New Mary Kawena Pukui Learning Commons in Honor of Visionary Hawaiian Scholar and Educator

Mary Kawena Pukui (1895 – 1986)

Punahou School is honored to announce that it will name its newest learning facility, the Mary Kawena Pukui Learning Commons, after the important and revered Hawaiian educator, scholar, composer and author: Mary Kawena Pukui (1895-1986).  Mrs. Pukui, who taught at Punahou in the 1930s, established the School’s curriculum in ‘ike Hawai‘i and was a source of inspiration for Punahou’s recently revised mission statement, which was unveiled in 2023.  Over the course of her celebrated life, Mrs. Pukui published more than 50 scholarly works, including the definitive Hawaiian-English Dictionary, was a researcher at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, taught at the Kamehameha Schools, documented the people and culture of Hawai‘i, and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1981.

“Mary Kawena Pukui was a transformative and compelling voice in the study of Hawaiian culture in the 20th Century. Her work continues to speak to us today, calling us to embrace our unique heritage and guiding the way toward a future of hope and community,” says school president Michael E. Latham, Ph.D. ’86. “The Mary Kawena Pukui Learning Commons will be a dynamic and welcoming space where our students, faculty, and staff will share ideas, create memories and grow together.” 

When the Mary Kawena Pukui Learning Commons opens in 2026, it will transform the former Cooke Library into a state-of-the-art intellectual hub at the heart of the Academy (grades 9 – 12). The 53,300 sq. ft. facility will include flexible learning spaces and classrooms; design, technology, and engineering labs; emerging technology studios equipped with virtual reality and AI tools; culinary and sustainability studios; and large wrap-around lānai spaces for students to collaborate and socialize. The Cooke Library Collection of books will be prominently featured, as will the Punahou Archives and a special room dedicated to exhibiting the work of Mrs. Pukui.

“My grandmother would be so happy to know that Punahou is honoring her legacy in this way,” says La‘akea Suganuma, Mrs. Pukui’s grandson and president of the Mary Kawena Pukui Cultural Preservation Society. “She dedicated her life to the children of Hawai‘i, and that’s what this new learning commons represents – a place for future generations to learn and thrive together.”

The project – designed by WhiteSpace Architects with construction by Albert C. Kobayashi – will mark a significant step forward in Punahou’s overall sustainability efforts. Designed to meet LEED Gold Certification or higher, the new building will feature sustainability elements such as water-efficient landscaping through bioswales and local plants. Covered lānai along the perimeter will provide naturally lit and ventilated learning spaces, enhancing student interaction with nature. On-site renewable energy will be generated by a full roof photovoltaic array, and permeable surfaces will be used to reduce ambient heat. The overall design emphasizes environmental quality, including indoor and outdoor thermal comfort, daylight, and views, with a conscious use of local and recycled materials.

Educational lessons will literally spring to life within the building’s emerging technology studios, which will be equipped with virtual and augmented reality tools so that students can learn through – and even design – immersive experiences, like visiting the coral reefs or the Australian Outback, without ever leaving campus. These powerful tools not only facilitate curiosity and investigative work but also enable students to apply design thinking when brainstorming about pressing environmental problems.

The Mary Kawena Pukui Learning Commons will feature a new grand entrance facing Rice (Middle) Field and ka puna hou, the natural spring which stands at the historical and spiritual heart of Punahou’s campus. The new staircase and entrance will serve to connect the School in a new and exciting way, enhancing the flow of students, faculty, and staff between the Junior School (kindergarten – grade 8) and Academy sides of campus.

Fundraising for the new building is successfully underway, with many donors inspired by the project’s vision for the future and its honoring of the past. The new Mary Kawena Pukui Learning Commons will build a deep sense of belonging, welcoming and inviting our community and generations of students to create, discover, and experience joyous moments together.

More about the Mary Kawena Pukui Learning Commons

To discover more about the Mary Kawena Pukui Learning Commons, see videos and renderings, and learn about Mary Kawena Pukui’s extraordinary life, visit: learningcommons.punahou.edu.

Project Details

ARCHITECT: WhiteSpace Architects (Laura Ayers, Ana Ruiz, and Shawn Halvorson) 

WhiteSpace Architects also wants to acknowledge the contributions of former employees, most critically its founder, the late Philip “Pip” White; Pip was a Punahou alumnus who had fond memories of Cooke Library, which opened in 1965 during his junior year.

GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Albert C. Kobayashi 



STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Hayes Structural Design

ELECTRICAL ENGINEER: Ronald Ho & Associates 


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