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The Buzz: Collaboration By Design

Renowned architect Gyo Obata on the client-architect relationship.

Photograph Courtesy of Images Publishing Group

Most architects dream of building a single iconic structure. Over the course of the past 50-plus years, HOK’s Gyo Obata has created dozens, from the Saint Louis Abbey to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum to Clayton’s Centene Plaza. In a new book, Gyo Obata: Architect | Clients | Reflections, written by Marlene Ann Birkman, the esteemed architect showcases a lifetime of work, along with thoughts from former and current clients.

On the book's origins: "People have been urging me to write a book about architecture for years. Most architecture books are done by architects who write about their work, but there’s no mention of the client. Every good building has a good client."

On the book’s theme: "It’s always been the main thrust of how I work on a project. I don’t do any schematics or designs until I find their vision. Many architects think it’s important for them to project what they’re thinking about and not listen to the client; many times, the buildings they create don’t really work. If you listen to the client, they give you freedom because they have confidence in you."

On excluding some notable St. Louis projects (including the James S. McDonnell Planetarium and renovated Union Station) from the book: "The publishers told me I had to limit the number of projects, so I limited it to 30 projects. Some of the clients were deceased or gone…and I had to make some decisions as to who to include."

On his work schedule at age 87: "I still go in every day. It’s important that you keep working... I could just sit on a desk and draw. It doesn’t really matter to me."

Did you know? Gyo Obata’s father, Chiura, was a painter who taught alongside photographer Ansel Adams at Yosemite National Park when Obata was a boy. Later, while studying at Cranbrook Academy of Art, Obata learned from Eliel Saarinen—father of Eero Saarinen, who designed the Gateway Arch.

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