A unique public sculpture by an American modern master combined with a rare solar event makes for an inspiring viewing event in Honolulu just twice a year.

Lāhainā Noon’s “Cruel Sun”

A special event occurs every year in the tropics where the sun’s rays strike down from directly overhead. Walls and flag poles stop providing shade, and Punxsutawney Phil would definitely not see his shadow. The scientific term for the location where this happens is called the subsolar point.

Hawaiʻi, the only state located in the tropics, has given this phenomenon the nickname “Lāhainā Noon”, with Lāhāina translating literally to ‘cruel sun’ in Hawaiian.1 In Honolulu, this solar event occurs twice a year on May 26th, 12:28 pm, and on July 16th, 12:37 pm.

Isamu Noguchi's Sky Gate at the Civic Center Lawn in Honolulu
Sky Gate at the Civic Center Lawn in Honolulu

Sky Gate by Isamu Noguchi

Isamu Noguchi completed the public sculpture Sky Gate in 1977. This curvy 24′ high sculpture made from industrial materials lies on the lawn next to the Frank F Fasi Municipal Building. (650 S King St, Honolulu, HI 96813). Noguchi designed Sky Gate as a portal linking the earth and cosmos. Noguchi also described the sculpture as “an evocation to the skies of Hawaiʻi”.2 It’s beautiful geometric lines and central location truly make it a focal point of the Civic Center Lawn.

Lāhainā Noon x Sky Gate

Now at Lāhainā Noon, something very peculiar happens at Sky Gate. The typically curvy shadows of the sculpture create a perfect circle lining the concrete base that lies beneath it. A small crowd typically gathers each year for this biannual celestial event. If you’d like to see this in person, check out the info listed below.

Isamu Noguchi's Sky Gate at Lāhainā Noon
Sky Gate at Lāhainā Noon
  • Address: 558 S King Street, Honolulu, HI 96813
  • Parking: South King Street has metered parking close to the sculpture, and there’s a nearby municipal parking lot at 346 Alapai St, Honolulu, HI 96813
  • Date/Time: May 26th, 12:28 pm, and July 16th, 12:37 pm.

At the end of last year, curiosity struck and I revisited Sky Gate. In particular, I wanted to see what the shadow looked like when the sun’s angle was much lower. In mid-November, the circular shadow turned into almost a perfect rounded square.

Isamu Noguchi's Sky Gate at the End of the Year
Sky Gate at the End of the Year

Both shapes are quite striking when looking at what’s creating the shadow. The forethought to produce these in the only state where this is possible is quite astonishing. In my mind, it’s no wonder that Isamu Noguchi is considered a true modern master.

Notes

  1. (2020, May 13) Lāhainā Noon Bishop Museum Blog https://blog.bishopmuseum.org/planetarium/lahaina-noon/
  2. Ana Maria Torres, “Isamu Noguchi A Study of Space” (2000) 303.
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4 Comments

  1. ubercow

    I’ve just updated the times for Lāhainā Noon at Sky Gate. Showing my work, I used the website NOAA Solar Calculator: https://gml.noaa.gov/grad/solcalc/

    First used their map to get the GPS position, then used the GPS location returned in one of my photo’s metadata. Both came up with May 26, 12:28 pm, and July 16, 12:37 pm

  2. Aloha,

    My father was the master welder who assisted Isamu Noguchi with the magnificent assembly of the Honolulu Skygate.

  3. At the time? My father was not the first welder to report to duty for Mr. Noguchi.

    He would however, be the last welder to work with “Isa” dad called Mr. Noguchi.

    The skygate was a massive puzzle when it first arrived on the City Municipal grounds. Hawaiian Dredging and Construction sent in welders unable to configure the massive pieces into assembly form.

    When my dad was briefed on his new assignment…his boss informed him that HD & C informed Mr. Noguchi…that they had only one more welder…who may be able to help him succeed. As always…my dad said he would do his BEST. Little did any of us ever realize the magnitude this art piece would have on our state, let alone my dad. Geez.

    My dad and Mr. Noguchi formed an artful friendship, so to speak. Dad spoke highly to me, about the mutual respect and aloha they had for each other. Dad said Mr. Noguchi was very kind and tolerated my dad’s jokes well. Mr. Noguchi would eventually come along with jokes of his own. Lol.

    Somewhere amongst my boxes of projects to purge, sort, pass on, lay to rest, n situate? Is the pamphlet published for the City’s dedication of skygate, with pics of my dad welding and Mr. Noguchi at the helm of the project. The City may have a copy of it somewhere. Pretty sure it was the City that published it.

    May not be real soon…but I’m a find it. Attended Feb Lahaina noon, but missed July this year. Shucks!

    • ubercow

      very cool. if you would like to share any scans of sky gate memorabilia you find for posterity’s sake, let me know and I can host them here for you.

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