Designing South Florida

Global architecture firm HOK opens in the Gables

Global architecture firm HOK opens in the Gables, works on UM football building, Miami courthouse

By Doreen Hemlock

As an interior designer, Steven Burgos likes to honor the history of the spaces he crafts. So, when global architecture and design firm HOK was opening its studio in Coral Gables, he sought to pay tribute to the building’s past (previously home to the Church of Scientology) and its location (South Florida). An office meeting room now displays portraits of two icons with similar names: actor Tom Cruise, the Scientology advocate, and singer Celia Cruz, the Cuban-American performer beloved in the Miami area.

“We like to add some storytelling in our designs,” chuckles Burgos, HOK’s director of design for Florida, sitting by the Cruz portrait in the room that also features art declaring, “Welcome to Little Havana.”

For people outside design circles, HOK might not be a familiar name. But if you’ve visited South Florida’s renovated Hard Rock Stadium or Florida International University’s Frost Art Museum, then you know some of the firm’s local work. HOK is also designing the new Miami-Dade County Civil Courthouse and co-designing the University of Miami’s new football operations center.

The firm has been so busy in South Florida recently that it opened its first office in the area this March, opting for Coral Gables, the leafy Miami-Dade city that’s home to the University of Miami and a cluster of top international design firms.

Founded in 1955 in St. Louis by three principals whose last names began with the letters H, O, and K, the firm first expanded to San Francisco, New York, Dallas, and Washington, D.C., before jumping overseas to Hong Kong in 1984. The HOK firm today employs some 1,600 people in 26 offices worldwide, most in the U.S. but also in London, Canada, Beijing, Shanghai, India, and the United Arab Emirates. Its project list includes a long list of large-scale works, including the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, BBC’s headquarters in London, and LG Science Park in Seoul, South Korea.

In Coral Gables, HOK now employs about a dozen staffers. Its studio reflects the firm’s design philosophy, combining function, beauty, branding, and storytelling. The office offers airy, flexible spaces and “huddle rooms” for a team that also works from home. On a large window overlooking Giralda, there’s also a sign and a QR code to help engage more with the local community.


For design firms, doing business in South Florida has its particularities, Burgos says. For one, the market is highly competitive, with developers and companies contracting top firms to make their buildings and offices stand out. “The conversation has shifted to creating a unique experience, whether it’s for employees, guests, or visitors,” says Burgos. “We’re having to be more creative.”

The environment plays a major role too. Designers often opt for large windows to let in the abundant sunlight. Yet they also need to consider “the quality of the light,” says Burgos. In picking paint for walls, designers must look at the paint color in sunlight and not just indoor light, because with sun streaming in, “some whites will look pink or blue,” says Burgos. Also, with climate change a growing concern, professionals increasingly “design for resiliency,” sometimes elevating structures for potential storm surge and sea-level rise.

Business culture differs in Miami too, even from Tampa – where HOK has an office employing some 35 people. “In Miami-Dade, it’s more relationship driven and personal,” says Burgos, who’s been in South Florida for nine years and hails from New Jersey. “Here, you meet a client and give a warm hug, a kiss on the cheek, and have a cafecito. The way of doing business or getting to know somebody is definitely driven more by what you see in Latin America.”

HOK sees opportunity for growth in South Florida, as corporations set up new offices and universities expand to serve the fast-growing market. The University of Miami is a repeat client. It chose HOK for its new football operations complex because of the firm’s “nationwide university sports-specialty experience,” says Mike Sardiñas, senior architect at the Office of the University Architect. The seven-story building “will support student athletes and the U’s goal of recruiting the best talent in the nation.”

At the football building, HOK and co-designing architecture firm Arquitectonica plan to highlight the history of UM football, partly through traditional displays of trophies and memorabilia but also with fun elements like an immersive digital experience, as well as graphics and murals. The design will also offer surprise “Easter Eggs” in different spots, says Burgos, to share the idea of UM as “Forever Home.”

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