Art, Architecture & Landscape at Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa Fact Sheet

Filed in: Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa

Art at Aulani

Overview: The legacy of Hawaiian artistry is celebrated at Aulani Resort with one of the world’s largest private collections of contemporary Hawaiian art displayed throughout the resort. Every piece of art is part of a larger Hawaiian story, as told by Hawaiian artists. More than 50 pieces decorate the hotel, including oil, acrylic and watercolor paintings, batik on silk, sculptures, wood carvings, kapa and bas relief.

Key Features:


  • Three carved “ki‘i,” or images, depicting the three brothers of the demi-god and folk hero Māui grace the resort’s entryway (the word “ki‘i” appears as “tiki” elsewhere in Polynesia). The kiʻi are the combined works of three generations of local artists: master carvers Rocky Jensen, Pat Pine and Jordan Souza. Jensen, the celebrated carver who still works with a ko‘i or adze, created the more traditional ki‘i. Pine, the second oldest of the group, created a more modern and contemporary ki‘i. Souza, the youngest contributor, celebrates the untold possibilities of the future in his work. By uniting their talents, these three artists have created a powerful work that is essentially timeless.


  • Master carver Rocky Jensen also created three powerful ki‘i at the entryway of the lobby. As guests enter, they are flanked by a ki‘i representing masculinity on the right, and a ki‘i representing femininity on the left. The two images pay respect to ancestors. The third piece, topped with the image of the ‘io, or Hawaiian hawk, represents the many generations of Hawaiian people who descended from these ancestors.
  • The lobby mural by Martin Charlot is divided into masculine and feminine sections, outlining the works of men and women in traditional Hawaiian life. The painting hangs beneath kapa-style bands that run along the walls of the lobby, each representative of the sea, land and sky, further divided into masculine and feminine sides.
  • The kapa bands that run along the walls of the lobby are the work of Dalani Tanahy. Each band represents one of the three realms: land, sea and sky. These sections are further divided into distinct masculine and feminine sides. The masculine bands represent Kū, a god of many domains who often is associated with masculinity and male power. The feminine bands represent Hina, the goddess often associated with femininity and tranquility.
  • “Pele and Hi‘iaka” acrylic mural in the lobby’s transverse corridor arch by Doug Tolentino shows a trio of powerful gods. Pele, goddess of fire, sits in the canoe next to her favorite sister, Hi‘iakaikapoliopele. Their brother, the god Kamao‘oali‘i, uses his shark form to serve as their guide and protector. Together, the trio makes a voyage across the seas. Hi‘iakaikapoliopele means “Hi‘iaka in the bosom of Pele”; when Pele and her clan made the original voyage to Hawai‘i from Kahiki, Hi‘iaka was unborn, existing only as an unhatched egg and held close to her heart.
  • At the other end of the lobby corridor, Doug Tolentino’s painting of “Kanaloa and Kāne” portrays two of the major gods of Hawaiian beliefs. Mo‘olelo, or stories, tell of the two venturing across Oʻahu and creating many natural water sources along the way. Kanaloa, ever on the search for a source of water to mix awa with, asks Kāne to pierce the land with his digging stick and bring forth life-giving water. From their adventures come Oʻahu’s freshwater springs.
  • On the first floor, a map of Oʻahu was created and given to Aulani Resort by the children of nearby Nānāikapono Elementary School with the guidance of local artist and educator Meleanna Meyer. Students were asked to illustrate pictures of their favorite places on the island, and the images were placed on the map – a testament to Hawaiʻi’s keiki, or children, and their strong sense of place.

Front Desk

  • The backdrop for the front desk features an impressive collage, “Rainbow Wall,” created by students in kindergarten through Grade 12 from across Hawaiʻi. Each was asked to capture the essence of the islands in a photograph focusing on a single color. The 138 photos combine to exemplify the beauty of the islands – flowers, plants, animals and places – in brilliant shades of green, red, purple, pink, red, blue, orange and yellow. The mural was done in conjunction with the Hawaiʻi Arts Alliance and the State of Hawai‘i, Creative Industries Division.

Makahiki – The Bounty of the Island Restaurant

  • In the entry to Makahiki, artists Butch Helemano and James Rumford collaborated to convey the story of the Makahiki season of peace, play and renewal (the “Makahiki season” was the ancient Hawaiian New Year festival). Rumford sketched the designs and wrote texts for Helemano’s wood carvings that illustrate the sights and events of the Makahiki season. One carving shows an ahupua‘a, a stone pillar capped with the image of a boar that marks the boundaries between island districts. Offerings were placed on the pillars during Makahiki.
  • Near the grand staircase that leads to Makahiki restaurant, local artist Mark Chai created a series of sculptures that capture the sense of play that is so important to Hawaiian cultures. One sculpture is of papa holua, or Hawaiian sled, for racing down mountainsides. Another sculpture is inspired by the Hawaiian board game similar to checkers, called kōnan. A third is a lupe, or Hawaiian kite. Each sculpture is made from recycled materials, emphasizing the Hawaiian aloha ‘āina, or love of land.

Nā Pua Place

  • At Nā Pua Place, local painter Brooke Parker gives a clear view of the traditional ahupua‘a,the land divisions that run from the mountains to the sea. By dividing the islands into these slices of land, Hawaiians of old made sure that every community had access to all the varied resources the island had to provide. Farmers of the uplands would share their crops with the fishermen of the seaside and receive gifts in return. Aulani Resort is designed like an ahupua‘a, with the lobby as mauka, or mountainside, and the Waikolohe Valley below running out to the sea.


  • On the exterior of the two towers, bas relief sculptures rise 15 stories. One, by Carl Pao, takes a Hawaiian oli – an aloha or welcome chant – composed by fellow artist and musician Doug Tolentino and interprets the words into a visual design. The chant speaks about the rising and setting of the sun and moon – and one bas relief faces towards the West, the other towards the East. Traditional Hawaiian concepts of balance between masculine and feminine, night and day, and sun and moon are echoed.
  • Also on the building exteriors, bas relief sculptures by Harinani Orme show an outrigger canoe on the open ocean, a vital mode of transportation in day-to-day life in Hawaiian history. Celestial bodies in the sky above the canoe represent the importance of the sun and moon as navigational tools. Another Orme bas relief is a tribute to the goddess Hina – a kind and nurturing figure known and beloved throughout Polynesia – towering over the Waikolohe Valley. Orme depicts Hina with her kapa tools laid out before her. A third bas relief by Orme stands at the end of the Waikolohe Valley opposite the Hina bas relief depicting Hina’s son, the demi-god Māui. Orme layers detail after detail of Māui’s exploits in the mural. One tale has Māui lassoing the sun to slow the speed of its journey across the sky, lengthening the days. Another has Māui flying the first kite. The most popular story details his attempt to capture a strong and magical fish which could unite the islands.


Architecture at Aulani

Overview:Aulani Resort celebrates the history and culture of the Hawaiian islands with an architectural design that seamlessly melds the traditional with the contemporary. Aulani tells you the story of Hawai‘i – from the mountains to the ocean – through the eyes of Disney, weaving together culture, art, legends, stories and places with a basis in history, but with current interpretations and an eye to the future.

During the design of the resort, Walt Disney Imagineering studied the culture and history, and worked with local Hawaiian cultural advisers, including Auntie Nettie Tiffany, whose family has cared for the nearby area called Lanikūhonua, and who is now the “kahu,” or guardian, for Ko Olina on the island of Oʻahu, where Aulani Resort is located.

Walt Disney Imagineering analyzed the Hawaiian theory of living with the aina, or land, which is a critical part of island life. Aulani Resort is a marriage of resort architecture, site topography, geology, landscape, water, wind, solar patterns.

The ahupua‘a is the traditional division of land, extending from the top of the mountain to the sea, encompassing all the resource zones that families needed to thrive. Through both landscape and architecture, Aulani incorporates this important cultural idea in its design, with the lobby area as the mountaintop, the Waikolohe Valley below, extending out to the Pacific Ocean (“wai” is the word for freshwater, and “kolohe” means mischievous).

Aulani Resort is the first resort in the islands to honor Hawaiian architecture and symbols throughout, paying homage to the culture. The adze bracket, a traditional chiseling tool, for instance, is used symbolically throughout the resort as a metaphor of transforming a natural material into a manmade product – just like it was used in the early days to transform wood into a canoe or a piece of furniture – from the beams in the porte-cochere to canopies and trellises.

With the oceanfront restaurants and lounges, the Imagineers crafted a whimsical story of a fishing family that fell in love with the land in the 1890s and built the first structure Off the Hook Lounge where they lived. As the family grew, they built a second “hale,” or thatched-roof dwelling, from the 1910 era, so another building was built (‘AMA‘AMA).


Landscape at Aulani

Overview:Beautifully designed with a balance between the manmade structures and natural surroundings, Aulani Resort relates to the environment and design traditions of the islands.

Key Features:

At the resort’s entry is a loi kalo (taro terrace) embodying the important cultural and spiritual ties of the people to the land, each other and ‘ohana. Kalo is believed to have the greatest life force of all foods and is an important staple from early times to the present.

Aulani Resort’s Waikolohe Valley was inspired by O‘ahu’s Mānoa Valley, with the tall walls of the surrounding resort creating the “edges” of the valley. With a broad canopy and flowering trees, the Valley is rich and lush with trees and shrubs, transitioning out to the beach with palm trees, more sunlight and long views out to the water.

Construction techniques were inspired from the building traditions indigenous to O‘ahu. In Waikolohe Valley, Walt Disney Imagineering took references from Hawai‘i’s railings, bridge structures and aquaducts. Some of the walls along the Waikolohe Stream represent stone construction along the canals in Honolulu, and the Menehune Bridge children’s water play area is made to look like timbers of ʻŌhiʻa wood, a legendary tree that is native to Hawai‘i.

The art of Hawaiian lashing, a centuries-old construction technique that uses a braided or twisted cord instead of nails, is showcased throughout the resort. One of the most visible structures that uses lashing is at the ‘AMA‘AMA entry and main dining area. The architectural detail can be compared to the arts and crafts design philosophy in the U.S. made famous by such luminaries as Greene & Greene in the late 1800s. How the wood pieces come together, the trellises, canopies, big beams, it’s all very articulate and refined.

And while rockwork and much of the structures are manmade materials, Hawai‘i’s beautiful natural elements are used as finishing touches. Rocks and stones are considered to have spirits and are living, so our landscape team was respectful of natural resources. When the site was excavated, Disney saved the coral boulders and placed them along the beachfront walkway as places to sit and gather.

The resort rings true in both its details and overall design – and as the landscape grows and the buildings mature, Aulani Resort will become even more beautiful.