Transitioning into the Future, Honoring our Past

Punahou’s exciting Academy Learning Commons renovation is underway – a comprehensive reenvisioning of the School’s historic Cooke Library, which was designed by Ernest Hideo Hara, Class of 1928. The building holds a special place in Punahou’s history, having served generations of students and faculty since its opening in 1965 – and it will continue to uphold this tradition upon its expected completion during the 2025 – 2026 school year. 

The reimagined structure – which will include updated design technology facilities, a food lab, conference rooms, gallery space, flexible classrooms and community spaces for collaborative projects and socializing – reflects the evolution of learning in the 21st century. Today, academic pursuits go beyond memorizing and repeating content in isolation, instead focusing on acquiring dynamic skills to navigate in a global society, according to Academy Principal Gustavo Carrera. 

Innovation is in Punahou’s DNA. “It has played an important role going back to our foundation in 1841,” says Archivist Kylee Po-maika‘i Mar. “Really, the Academy Learning Commons is part of that continued innovation of our School. This is the next iteration – we are providing what our students need.”

As we embrace this innovative progress, we continue to treasure our past. Many iconic design elements of the original Cooke Library will carry into the new Learning Commons structure. Given the Historic Place Designation of the campus and the building’s classic mid-century aesthetic, Punahou is working closely with the State Historic Preservation Department to retain many important architectural elements while revamping a building that heralds an exciting future. Some of the historic preservation work retains important visual elements of Cooke Library, such as maintaining the original copper fascia and using decorative stone elements on the new lānai – which is reminiscent of the other historic Academy buildings, such as Cooke Hall and Pauahi Hall. 

In addition, several important artworks on display in Cooke Library for decades will be cleaned, restored and reinstalled in the new building. These works include the Edward M. Brownlee bronze hala and owl sculpture, and terrazzo wall that has greeted visitors for almost six decades, as well as Punahou’s treasured Alumni Quilt. The Academy library, temporarily housed in Bishop Hall, will return to the renovated building and will be named the Cooke Library Collection in recognition of the generous support from the Cooke Foundation, Limited. This includes 30,000 fiction and non–fiction volumes which comprise the circulating collection in the central reading room. The facility will also offer expanded physical and online academic research resources and opportunities.

The central stairwell of the Academy Learning Commons will feature a history wall, depicting what has happened on these lands throughout time. Mar explains, “Storytelling of our past will be visually represented with images of the campus at our founding in 1841, our first school structure affectionately named the ‘E-building’ for its shape and other landscape elements that harken back to the School’s earliest days.”

Punahou’s rich traditions and history guide the renovation effort and acknowledge the decades of work and memories in this storied building. The Academy Learning Commons project will complete our K – 12 Learning Commons, which started with our Junior School Learning Commons completed in 2019. During this process, we are honoring our past – and strategically preparing our students for a rapidly changing future.

Learn more about the project at

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