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Douglas Cheung, Master Architect

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

Doug Cheung is a self-made man. He built himself up from scratch and does the same with his architectural projects. Doug calls from Boston, but his expertise is in demand around the country and indeed around the world. His repertoire of projects ranges from the interior of the State Street Bank in Boston, a project he masterminded when he was only 26 years old, to Stanley Ho’s most prized hotel in Macau.

The State Street Project was one of Doug’s earliest accomplishments. He was made Project Architect for the interior of this giant landmark of Boston—one million square feet in total—in 2001. While working on this project, Doug was making a mark for himself in Hawaii, bidding and working on houses in Kaneohe and Saint Louis. After 9/11, when air travel became problematic to this faraway island chain, opportunities abounded here. Doug was offered a job to be based in Hawaii working for the prestigious WATG architectural firm. His projects here have included the prestigious Park Lane condominium, the One Ala Moana condominium project where gorgeous shaded glass condominiums somehow emerged from the world’s largest open shopping center, the Ulana condominium project in Ward Village, and preliminary drawings for the yet-to-be Mandarin hotel on Atkinson Drive.

Doug’s impact did not stop there. A global destiny awaited him. Soon after joining WATG, in 2002, the company offered Doug the opportunity to go to China to work for Stanley Ho’s casino renovation project in Macau. Stanley Ho was the seventh richest man in the world at the time and was on a mission to upgrade his 10 hotels on the Portuguese island to match the incoming glamor of Steve Wynn, who had just been granted permission to operate on the island. Doug’s response to the offer was, “Of course!” He was assigned to be the lead project architect from Hawaii to work on the Lisboa hotel renovation. When Doug arrived, he and his team kicked off their project with a “charette,” a process whereby management locks the team in a room, assigns them a problem, and for three or four days the team works to come up with a design solution. The Lisboa to this day stands as a glittering symbol of success in the casino world. Doug made a lot of good friends in China despite the fact there was a SARS outbreak when he was there.

State Street and Lisboa are the two commercial projects Doug takes the most pride in addition to the residential projects he has owned and done on his own in Hawaii and Boston.

Doug, precocious, graduated from high school when he was only 15, a proud achievement for his father in particular, who himself had not had an easy time obtaining an education. But the experience left Doug resentful for missing out on the kinds of social experiences most of us take for granted. He was so young for his brains that he was overlooked by his peers. He ran away from home and didn’t end up going back to college until eight years later. His advice to parents who have children skip a grade is: Don’t do it. The hiatus, however, proved to be worthwhile. It gave him a purpose and started him off on the road to the passion of his life. Doug’s best friend got him a paint job at a construction site for a big-hearted Italian boss. The job gained Doug enough money to become self-sufficient. He rented a place with his friend and when his friend moved out, Doug fixed it up and subleased it to two other friends who paid for the majority of the rent. Doug was on his way.

Over the years, Doug would come to Hawaii frequently to visit his sister, a fashion model, actress, and flight attendant. She used her airline perks to make it possible for Doug to visit her and in the process, Doug fell in love with Hawaii. Doug’s older sister to this day is his hero. These trips to Hawaii started Doug thinking outside the ice box. One day, Doug woke up to a bitter cold morning in Boston and realized he couldn’t continue working outside in the brutal cold for the rest of his life. So he decided to enroll in a college where it’s warm inside. He put himself thru BAC (Boston Architecture Center), studying during the daytime and working off hours refurbishing a studio he had purchased near Fenway Park with the help of his father, by now a Broker.

When Doug finished college, he worked full time for an architectural firm. He liked that he could do his own drawings and get his own permits without hiring an architect and he liked being able to work out the details to make it ready for construction. For some years, Doug was flying back and forth between Boston and Hawaii. By then, he had owned, renovated, and rented eight units in Boston and two homes in Hawaii. He eventually hired property managers for these properties so he could concentrate on architecture.

Before coming to Hawaii, Doug freelanced as a consultant to many firms. In Hawaii, however, he went back to working for the big firms doing drawings. He had an advantage being from Boston, where the latest technology was more widely used. He knew the latest architectural software programs people in Hawaii were just beginning to adopt. He was hired here by Architects Hawaii, where he works now, to work on the pending Mandarin Hotel project here on Atkinson Drive. The first architect does the design drawings. Then Doug finesses these designs from start to finish to make them construction ready. Although he lives and works in Hawaii now, Doug continues to be licensed in both Hawaii and Boston.

Personal Life

When Doug re-located to Hawaii, he married his current wife, with whom he three precious children. Doug not only has big visions. He has a big heart. On Millionaires Row in Boston, he would give money to homeless people. He didn’t want them to feel like a charity case, so they would gather old artifacts like candlesticks and mirrors he used to stage his houses. One day, he came across a homeless man by the name of Russell with a bleeding eye. He said what are you doing in this cold? So he advised the homeless man to go to the shelter. The homeless man said that’s where I got this. So Doug took him in and let him stay at his building while it was under construction. The man disappeared for about 5 years. Doug thought he had died, but one day about 5 years later, Doug was crossing the street and recognized the man but wasn’t sure because the man was cleaned up. He called out Russell, the man thanked Doug and shared with Doug that after he had last helped him, Russell decided to go back to his father’s house and get cleaned up and got a job. He thanked Doug for all his help. Doug still gives money to homeless. He will give his last $5 to give to the homeless, as he tries to see himself as the homeless person, picturing himself if he was that person. He thinks what it would be like if he were them. He would be happy if someone came up to him and helped him out so he doesn’t starve for the day. All humanity is not lost. How would it feel if someone came up to him and gave him a few bucks just so he can eat and doesn’t starve for the day.What would it be like if that were he (empathy). Doug would be grateful if someone gave him a few bucks for food and that is why he does it with homeless he comes across. “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Once in a while a senior architect would take Doug to lunch and tell you about the profession and what is in store for you down the road. He was the new guy that would come into the office. Now that Doug is a Senior Architect, when he sees a new intern, he’ll sometimes take the intern to lunch especially if they are working on his new project. He remembers what it was like when he was starting out as a new intern. Now that Doug is a Senior Architect, he likes to do the same.

Doug’s sister was the most impressionable person in his life. When she was 17, she ran away from home, like Doug later did, to Puerto Rico to become a fashion model. She always took care of him when he was younger. He really missed her. When she came back to the US, she lived in Hawaii. That is how Doug first went to Hawaii. She would fly Doug back and forth between Hawaii and Boston.

Born near the Bronx in the worst part of town next to Hell’s Kitchen, he shared the floor with three siblings while his parents slept in the bedroom. But Doug’s parents had not always been poor—at least one of them. His mom came from a wealthy Chinese family of five siblings. His dad, in contrast, was an orphan with no education and no money when he met Doug’s mom. He was only 17 when they met. She outdid him: she was only 14. Her dad told him, “If you want to marry my daughter, you must be educated.” The young suitor worked for him and entrusted the money he earned to him for future college expenses. When the time for the union arrived, however, the future father-in-law, who himself had come from a prominent family, got cold feet and would not give the young man back his money. So Doug’s parents eloped to San Francisco. Angry, her father put out newspaper ads hunting them down and sent a whole contingent from the Chinese community to search for the illicit newlyweds. Once free, the couple had four kids but eventually ran out of money. Realizing the game was up, they ate crow and moved back in with their pursuer in Boston. Doug’s father eventually went into real estate and lit the fire in Doug for his love of design and building.

A typical kid and aspiring astronaut, Doug loved the moon station so much at a very young age that his parents bought him a moon-station kit. As he assembled the moon station, he realized he really like putting things together. That’s where it all started. It led to Doug building club houses, tree houses, and eventually condos in Hawaii and Boston and even a casino in majestic Macau.


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