Dezeen Magazine

Japanese-American architect Gyo Obata dies aged 99

Gyo Obata, co-founder of the St Louis-based architecture firm HOK, has passed away at the age of 99.

The news of Obata's death on 8 March 2022 was announced by HOK, which shared a retrospective of his life and works on its website.

Spire Obata obituary
Obata is known for designing the Community of Christ Temple in Missouri

Obata is known for his work on projects like the Priory Chapel at Saint Louis Abbey, and National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. His Galleria in Houston was one of the first multi-level indoor malls to have an ice skating rink.

He designed many structures for religious and educational campuses as well as airports in cities as disparate as St Louis and Riyadh.

Priory Chapel Missouri
The Priory Chapel at Saint Louis Abbey was an early HOK design

Known for reshaping the landscape of St Louis after the second world war, Obata was an early proponent of sustainable design whose "work is characterised by an efficient use of materials and sense of harmony with its natural environment".

"Gyo's innovative design solutions have shaped an ongoing series of important cultural and civic buildings that fulfill their functional requirements while creating memorable public spaces," said HOK.

HOK founders historical photo
HOK founders Obata, George Hellmuth and George Kassabaum pose with model of the Priory Chapel

The son of two Japanese artists who emigrated to the United States, Obata managed to avoid internment following Pearl Harbor and was educated at Washington University in St Louis – one of the only architecture schools taking Japanese-American students at the time.

After working under architects like Minoru Yamasaki and Eliel Saarinen, and at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Obata founded HOK with George Hellmuth and George Kassabaum in 1955. The firm would go on to complete projects all over the United States, Europe and Asia.

National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C Obata obituary
Obata designed the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC

Under Obata's hand, HOK designed many structures that exhibited refined monumentalism.

Other iconic projects include King Saud University in Riyadh and the Community of Christ Temple in Missouri, the latter with a metallic spire shaped like a conch shell.

King Khalid Airport by Obata
King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh references forms from Islamic and secular culture

More recently Obata completed a building for the Washington University School of Medicine before his retirement in 2012. Even after retirement, Obata reportedly kept an office at HOK until 2018, advising new generations of architects.

Obata won a number of awards throughout his life. They include a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Arts from the Japanese American National Museum and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the St Louis Arts & Education Council.

The photography is courtesy of HOK.