As a child, Keahi enjoyed playing with all kinds of building toys, from Lincoln Logs to K’nex to Legos. Aside from his penchant for building, his frequent travels from California to see family in Hawaii also informed his sense of how architecture responds to the environment. Architecture in Hawaii is unique due to the mildness of the climate andthe design aesthetics that have been developed as a result to make structures not require HVAC or other modern mechanical space-conditioning options. This is where Keahi learned the term “vernacular architecture,” which is related to designing based on the environment and location. Architecture, then, was the clear choice when it came time to choose a career path after college. “From the moment I began at school, I realized how much I enjoyed it,” he says.
In the early years of his career, Keahi worked at several firms where he gained experience in a variety of fields with different project types. When he began working in Perkins Eastman’s Costa Mesa studio, he was introduced to K-12 work, which he’s found to be the most fulfilling. After earning his architecture license in 2017, he began looking for a way to give back to the profession, so in 2019 he began working with the California Architects Board to help develop the California Supplemental Exam, which every architect in California must now pass to become licensed.
Since he’s been with Perkins Eastman, Keahi has worked as a project manager on a variety of projects including campus modernizations, HVAC/utility upgrades, and several new classroom buildings. He particularly enjoys “massively complex” projects, he says, such as the complete retrofit of the Los Angeles County Civic Center’s Central Plant, which demanded coordination with multiple engineering teams to upgrade its MEP and structural systems.
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Keahi is active on the firm’s internal licensure and data unit committees. He enjoys mentoring and teaching the younger staff to develop to their full potential. Due to the Costa Mesa studio’s small size, Keahi and his fellow studio leaders can give a great deal more responsibility to emerging professionals so they can learn to manage and lead design teams—and ultimately move into project manager roles in a relatively short period of time.