Formerly, Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum and now HOK, is a design, architecture, engineering and urban planning firm founded in 1955 in St. Louis, America. George Hellmuth, Gyo Obata and George Kassabaum were the founding fathers of the firm. They were all trained architects and graduates of the Washington University in St. Louis. Currently, HOK has a network of 23 offices across the world with around 1600 employees. 

In 2018, HOK was recognized as the largest architecture-engineering firm and the fourth largest interior design firm based in the USA.

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The founders of HOK – Hellmuth G., Obata G., Kassabaum G. _©

HOK Design Process

HOK has established its presence across the world through collaboration. Through the years, the organization has worked with various design, architecture and engineering firms, and often merged with them. The organization does not only believe in collaboration in its management and work process but also in its design. HOK is always working towards creating shared and community spaces by constantly looking for groundbreaking innovations through collaborations. They implement a ‘care to detail’ outlook to achieve aesthetically and contextually fitting buildings, without foregoing their purpose. 

All HOK designs are finely tuned to the purpose of the built forms. The teams at HOK believe in designing buildings that are responsive to the context and the needs of the people. “Our designers are rooted in technical excellence, driven by imagination and focused on a solitary goal: to deliver solutions that inspire clients and communities”, is how HOK describes its work and process. Sharing knowledge and learning are the prime objectives at the company. HOK, thus, also dabbles in and publishes relevant research from time to time.

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LG North American Headquarters – LEED-NC Platinum Certified _©

HOK Culture 

The firm’s critical eye to function and context and its design process evolves out of the ethos of sustainability. They believe that buildings should be resilient in nature and ensure the health and wellness of their inhabitants. With this idea at its core, HOK is committed to achieving a carbon-neutral design portfolio by 2030. HOK has won multiple awards for its work in the domain of sustainable design. Engineering News Record has ranked HOK as the NO.1 green building architecture/ engineering firm.

HOK is not only applauded for its groundbreaking work but also its inclusive approach. The culture at their offices is that of embracing diversity. HOK actively engages with people from different backgrounds, races, ethnicity, gender, etc., from within the firm and from the local communities. They believe that this diversity brings novel and unique ideas to the table and helps enhance the design by broadening the vision. 

The culture within the organisation is the reflection of the core ideals of the firm – of creating an impact on social, environmental and economic grounds. HOK thus provides pro bono services and organizes events in the communities and cities they work in by collaborating with local change-makers.

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King Abdullah University of Science and Technology by HOK _©

Such a progressive, collaborative and inclusive outlook is prominent in the firm’s many works. HOK’s first project was a primary school in Bristol as a response to the post-war baby boom in 1956. Since then, they have delved into a variety of projects with differing intents, scales, requirements and contexts. The portfolio of works includes disciplines like architecture, interiors, urban planning and design, experience design, landscape architecture, lighting design, sustainable design, engineering and consulting. 

Their projects range from education to civic, government and hospitality buildings. They have a wide array of residential and mixed-use projects. They also specialize in aviation and sports and recreation projects. 

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Mercedes Benz Stadium _©

Thus, HOK has marked its presence in all markets in the architectural industry. Since its first few projects that included the design of a chapel, primary school and planetarium, HOK has come a long way. Its most recent project was the brand-new airport in Salt Lake City. 

Now let’s look at some of these projects in detail:

The St Louis Priory Chapel

The St Louis Priory Chapel, often described as HOK’s breakout project, was designed by partner Gyo Obata in 1962. The chapel is a reinforced concrete shell structure that resembles a flower. It has large fibreglass windows framed by leaping parabolic arches. Atop the first archway sits another, almost afloat. In all, three symmetrical shells sit atop each other to make the chapel seem like a waterfall and fill it with light. 

The number of openings makes the church seem weightless. Its undulating and white form sits perfectly amidst the rolling hills and valleys.

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St. Louis Priory Chapel by Gyo Obata _©
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St. Louis Priory Chapel by Gyo Obata _©

The Salt Lake City Airport

The Salt Lake City Airport completed in 2020 is the most recent of HOK’s works. It is spread over 2.4 lakh sq.m. It is not only pleasing to the eye but also extremely functional and efficient. The airport has light-filled terminals that give splendid views of the airfield and the adjacent mountains. Deriving inspiration from “The Grand Canyon”, the airport has earth-toned interiors and exteriors. 

Thus, the airport melts into the surrounding landscape and gives the user a unique perspective of Utah. HOK’s wayfinding and experience design team have made navigating the huge airport seamless and easy. 

Visual Representation of Salt Lake City Airport _©

Since the Priory Chapel, HOK has come a long way in terms of reach, project scale, innovation and sustainability. Despite growth over the years, the core beliefs of the firm remain the same. They continue to design buildings that respond to the context and have become leaders in innovation and sustainability. They aim at giving back to the community spaces that ignite curiosity and a sense of community and culture. The architecture and engineering community recognizes HOK’s efforts towards making better cities and habitable spaces. The firm thus consistently receives this appreciation in the form of awards and accolades from the industry.


HOK. About-HOK. [online]. Available at: [Accessed 11 July 2021].


Prerna is an urban design enthusiast, looking at the world with a critical eye. She often finds herself using pen and paper to untangle the wires running in her head. She believes that the urban situation in India needs more research and hopes one day to be able to contribute to it successfully. Currently yo can find her overdosed on coffee with a ook in her hand.