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David A. Miller, Hawaii architect admired for projects, leadership, dies at 79

  • COURTESY AHL
                                <strong>David Miller: </strong>
                                <em>He was principal and chairman and former president and CEO of AHL (formerly Architects Hawaii Ltd.) </em>

    COURTESY AHL

    David Miller:

    He was principal and chairman and former president and CEO of AHL (formerly Architects Hawaii Ltd.)

Over his 50-year career, Honolulu architect David A. Miller left an indelible mark across the islands with projects ranging from Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa to the Pacific Aviation Museum, one of his personal favorites.

Bettina Mehnert, president and CEO of AHL, formerly known as Architects Hawaii Ltd., called Miller, who died April 10 after a long bout with pancreatic cancer, “a mentor and a leader” at the firm.

“Hawaii has lost one of the state’s most visionary architects, a man who loved Hawaii and cared deeply about its culture and people,” she said.

Miller was 79. A private memorial service will be held.

Other notable projects of Miller’s include the Center of Waikiki retail shops, Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club, Beach Villas at Ko Olina, Ironwoods at Kapalua, the Marriott and Outrigger Waikoloa resorts, Sheraton Walker Hill Resort in Seoul, The Shops at Wailea, The Shops at Mauna Lani, Kahala Nui Senior Living Community, the Symphony Honolulu luxury high-rise condominium, and the FBI Honolulu Field Office in Kapolei.

“David had aspirational goals,” said Mehnert, who had worked with him since 1988. “He didn’t just look at the design of the building; he looked at how it would fit into its context. David’s context was larger: What is its place in history?

“David had his eyes on the horizon … I think that made him beautifully inspiring. Fifty years with such a big firm, David influenced much of our built environment.”

Colleagues said he also had an uncanny ability to collaborate and maintain relationships with developers, clients, engineers, contractors and others in his work and personal life, said Daniel Moats, an AHL principal who was mentored by the architect.

“He was a very good listener and I think that’s why people gravitated to him,” Moats said. “He was just so interested in your story, not his story, but your story. I think he enjoyed it genuinely.”

Miller joined the firm in 1971 when it was known as Lemmon, Freeth, Haines, Jones and Farrell. He became a principal in 1975, was appointed CEO in 2000 and served as chairman of the board from 2010 until his retirement in 2021.

Moats, who spent much of his 22-year career sitting near Miller’s office at AHL, said architects are “problem solvers,” which “requires an ability to communicate and to have relationships that you can get to a conclusion and agreement.”

He said Miller was able “to lead people to come to a design. He wasn’t emphasizing his opinion too much. He was allowing you to think through it and help guide you through that process.”

As a mentor, Moats said Miller tried to open doors for others to advance their careers.

According to Mehnert, the architect enjoyed big, complex projects and welcomed input from his team.

She described him as someone who cared about others and exuded “a calmness and thoughtfulness about him that taught us all well. Everybody just liked him. That’s a rare feat because as leader of a large firm you’re not always everybody’s friend,” Mehnert said. “All his decisions were well-respected because he was so thoughtful and fair.”

He was also humble and didn’t like drawing attention to himself, she added.

Born July 13, 1942 in Brooklyn, N.Y., Miller received his bachelor of architecture degree from Carnegie Mellon University in 1964 and his master of architecture degree from Harvard University in 1965.

He enjoyed writing and contributed to AHL’s 75th anniversary book last year. During this travels, Miller liked to take photos of architectural designs, which he shared as ideas for projects, Moats said.

Miller is survived by his wife, Brigitte Hahn-Miller, sons Joshua and Jordan Han Miller, and daughter, Kyra Li Ai Miller.

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