March 21, 2017
By Lisa Yamada | Flux
Images by John Hook
At just 28 years old, Sean Connelly can already consider himself a landowner, of a “small area,” to be exact. The 32,000 pounds of land he owns, he has molded, compacted, formed, and set on display at ii Gallery, a small space in Kaka‘ako. Connelly chose the location with intent—the gallery sits on land owned by Kamehameha Schools, the largest private landholder in the state. Much in the same way that Connelly is trying to control his own small piece of land, molding it into an unnatural form, this “architectural intervention,” as he calls it, titled A Small Area of Land, addresses the way land is objectified in Hawai‘i today. “That’s contrasted with the way, traditionally, our culture treated land, which felt more of a familial relationship to it,” he says. “Traditionally, it was cared for.”
For as long as he can remember, Connelly has been fascinated by land. Growing up, he split his time between his dad’s side in Kahalu‘u and his mom’s side in Kalihi, all at once lulled by the lush greenery of the Windward side and disenchanted by Honolulu’s ugly urban core. “When I applied for college, my essay about why I wanted to become an architect was because I wanted to make Hawai‘i a more beautiful place,” says Connelly, who holds a doctorate in architecture from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. “Now, I’m less concerned with making things pretty for the sake of saving Hawai‘i in terms of its beauty because I know there are much deeper issues than just aesthetics.”
Since then, Connelly has been active in creating a more sustainable future for Hawai‘i. While at UH, he co-founded Sustainable Saunders, a group that retrofitted Saunders Hall with more energy-efficient devices. After graduation, he worked at KYA Design Group to help develop an environmental baseline for the Hawai‘i Department of Transportation Airports Division. Now, Connelly says he is interested in issues related to environmental degradation, and specifically, how urban developments have diminished the productivity of Hawai‘i’s watersheds, the area from mountain to ocean known as the ahupua‘a. “When you look at the watershed itself on a map, all of the stream areas within it are zoned as urban or agriculture. This is really bad for the environment because we essentially destroy the function of the stream, which is to filter the rainwater draining into the ocean. This eventually creates a lot of pollution and runoff.”
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