HOK Senior Project Architect Tony Raya Discusses His Distinct View and Career Path
Tony Raya (center) with St. Louis colleagues Kevin Semple and Erik Illies.
Raya was 19 and studying architecture when a car accident altered his life but not his career.
As the lead project architect on Centene Centre, a 2-million-sq.-ft. corporate campus rising up in suburban St. Louis, Tony Raya’s days are spent juggling meetings and deadlines with HOK’s technical design team and the project’s many consultants and contractors. Recently, Raya took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to discuss his road to HOK and how he sees architecture a bit differently than most.
When I was in high school I stumbled upon a drafting book my father used in college. I flipped through it and thought, ‘This looks interesting.’ My senior year I took a class related to drafting. I enjoyed drawing, and at that time everything was still done by hand. After high school I went to Ranken Technical College to pursue a two-year degree in drafting and technology.
The accident occurred in September 1989. I was just about to turn 19 and start my second year at Ranken. My sister was going to college a few hours away, and I went with one of her friends to drop her off at school. On our return trip, my sister’s friend tried to pass a car on a two-lane road. Another car was coming in the opposite direction and we collided head on. My sister’s friend had minor injuries as did the passengers in the other car. I had been asleep in the passenger’s seat and the impact tore my aorta causing internal bleeding. I was transported to St. Louis University Hospital by helicopter. Five minutes before getting me into surgery my aorta burst. The doctors said that five minutes in either direction I would have been dead or walking. But the nerves in my lower spine had been deprived of blood long enough to cost me the ability to move my legs. My spinal cord was not severed, and I did not lose sensation in my legs, which is rare.
A year later—September 1990—I returned to school. After I graduated from Ranken, I got a job with a design-build firm as a CAD draftsman. By then we were using AutoCAD instead of drawing by hand. One of my colleagues had worked at HOK previously and then returned to work for HOK. He thought I’d be a good fit here and let me know of an opening for an architectural technician. That was 17 years ago. I’ve been here ever since, though my titles have changed. In 2008 I earned my architect license.
My disability has no real effect on what I do as a project architect. That role is more about communication and coordinating deliverables. I do, however, get a fair number of questions from colleagues and clients about accessibility. Using a wheelchair certainly influences the way I interact with architecture, and I’m happy to offer advice based on my experience and my knowledge of ADA.
Outside of HOK you might find me at the ballpark or a hockey game. I’m a season-ticket holder to the Cardinals and the Blues. I also enjoy checking out new brewpubs with friends.