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1 February 2018

Ralph Raymond: HOK Architect Works to Expand Diversity in Profession, Champion His Native Haiti

To say that Ralph Raymond always wanted to be an architect is hardly an exaggeration. He was just five years old and building skyscrapers out of toy blocks when his kindergarten teacher suggested that he become an architect.

“I went home that day and told my parents I knew what I wanted to be,” said the 29-year-old architect in HOK’s Atlanta office. “I didn’t fully understand what an architect was, but as I learned more about it I became even more determined.”

Fueling that determination was Raymond’s origins. He was just two years old when his father, a bishop, took a new job at a church in suburban Atlanta—some 1,200 miles and a world removed from their native Haiti. Imagine, Raymond thought, what he could do as an architect to improve the conditions in his home country?

By seventh grade, Raymond already had his college picked out: Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture, where he’d go on to earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree. While at Georgia Tech, Raymond became involved in the National Organization of Minority Architects Students (NOMAS), an organization that would hold greater sway over his career than even his kindergarten teacher or birth country.

As an undergrad, Raymond and his classmates entered and won multiple NOMAS design competitions. Helping the students prepare and submit their designs were volunteer instructors from HOK’s Atlanta studio.

“That fostered the relationship,” said Raymond. “I began visiting the office and slowly became part of HOK.”

Raymond would go on to serve as the treasurer and president of the Georgia Tech chapter of NOMAS. He’d also begin working part-time for HOK while still attending classes. Once out of school, he graduated to NOMAS’ parent organization, the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), for which he has served as membership chair and treasurer of the Atlanta chapter. And just as Raymond benefited from NOMAS as a student, he is now sharing what he knows to help develop more minority architects.

“Architecture allows me to positively impact the infrastructure of my city, but I want to do more than that,” Raymond said. “I want to make sure the next generation is equipped to do the same.”

Over the last couple years, Raymond has assisted with HOK’s involvement in Project Pipeline, a NOMA initiative that brings architecture into classrooms like Ralph J. Bunche Middle School, a predominantly black school in southwest Atlanta. Last year Raymond and several NOMA and HOK colleagues spent three days at Bunche leading seventh and eighth grade students on a design project that involved both planning and critical thinking.

HOK colleagues Farida Abu-Bakare (center rear) and Todd Bertsch (third from right) pose with Bunche Middle School students at the end of a Project Pipeline competition. (Photo: Ralph Raymond)

“It was special to watch those kids presenting as teams and see how confident and excited they were about sharing their final projects,” said Todd Bertsch, design principal for HOK’s Atlanta office, who served as a jurist for the event. “For Ralph, I know it’s important and inspirational to be in those environments and show young people that they, too, could someday put on a suit and be an architect or whatever they hope to be.”

Still early in his career, Raymond has yet to have an opportunity to take his architecture skills back to his native Haiti. Though given some Americans’ preconceptions of the nation, he knows there are other ways he can build up Haiti.

“One of the first things I do when I meet someone is let them know I’m from Haiti,” said Raymond. “When people see me, it’s obvious to them that I’m African-American, which carries whatever stereotypes one associates with it. But then when I tell them I’m Haitian and, by the way, I’m also an architect, it’s almost like they can’t process it. The gasps can be audible.”

Favorite HOK projects he has worked on: Center for Civil and Human Rights and Porsche Cars North America Experience Center and Headquarters

When not at work: “I’m an action movie addict. It’s how I de-stress.”

Food he can’t live without: “Haitian spaghetti. Unlike traditional spaghetti, the sauce and noodles are cooked together and the meat can be sausage, hot dogs or ground beef. I can eat it around the clock.”