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HOK Science + Technology Director Randy Kray Speaks the Language of Science

Randy Kray HOK

Learn how the new director of HOK’s Science + Technology group made his way from Western Canada to the Sun Belt, where he transitioned from designing complex high containment facilities to leading a specialty global practice at HOK—and along the way learned to finger pick with the clawhammer banjo.

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Randy Kray earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and a master’s in architecture from the University of Manitoba. As a young architect practicing in Winnipeg in the late 1980s and 1990s, Randy discovered an affinity for designing high-performance technical buildings. In 2000, after his firm won a commission to design the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) new maximum containment and special pathogen laboratories, Randy and his family moved to Atlanta to be near the project site.

I was working on that CDC project when 9/11 happened. Almost overnight, the world became focused on countering bioterrorism. I spent the next eight years traveling the world to design complex high containment facilities for government and institutional clients. About the time that cycle had run its course and those facilities had been built, I was offered a position as an S+T leader in HOK’s Atlanta office. This gave me the opportunity to leverage this experience and expand my approach to laboratory design to include the multiple S+T project types for which HOK provides global leadership.

Until I was 22, I wanted to be a scientist. I focused on premed and the sciences for the first few years of college until I realized my passion was architecture. The ability to come full circle as an architect who can still live in the science and discovery world feeds my innate curiosity. And the fact that I can speak the language of science allows for clear, purposeful communication with our clients. Their scientific goals drive our design solutions.

HOK’s S+T group has a unique alchemy of design thinkers, lab planners and technical experts. Our teams help research-driven clients leverage their people and make the best use of equipment and capital assets. In addition to providing highly functional and technically sophisticated spaces, we aim for our solutions to help clients achieve the most innovative research outcomes. 

The scientific workplace of the future will focus on the intersection of human and technical factors. The building needs to support an investment in the sciences—it’s not a result on its own. We plan it to bring the right people together while giving them the space and tools they need to collaborate and do what they do best.

Science is changing from an individual activity to a team sport. Designing highly collaborative scientific workplaces can trigger cultural shifts in research-driven organizations. These organizations are finding they achieve better results as they bring more people into contact with each other. Compressing the research footprint allows more science to happen. 

We design for intelligent flexibility. This means we identify a client’s goals for the future before simply designing adaptable space. An evidence-based approach gives clients a better return on their investment. 

A project is successful when it accomplishes more than our client ever thought possible. Every project has many different opportunities to over-achieve.

The new Francis Crick Institute designed by our London, St. Louis, New York and Atlanta offices succeeds on every level. It started with the institute’s bold new vision for researching biomedical translational science. Though it’s one of the world’s most technically sophisticated facilities, the design was driven by the desire for science to be a social, collaborative activity. The building’s density, flexibility, utilization and social connective tissue embody the aspirational aspects of how science will be done in the UK. It also is sending ripples around the global scientific community, as evidenced by its 2017 Laboratory of the Year award from R&D Magazine.

We are designing undergraduate STEM educational facilities at Soka University in Orange County, California, and Memorial University in St. John’s Newfoundland. In these projects we are looking at how we can help educators stimulate and engage with the next generation of scientists in hands-on, highly interactive learning environments.

The University of Chicago William Eckhardt Research Center provides a phenomenal platform for interdisciplinary science. It combines the most advanced tools and high-performance, flexible lab space for principal investigator-driven research with the most sophisticated building performance systems and toolsets for researchers to go all the way up from the nano scale to the scale of the universe. It is an astounding facility that supports performance and people–two critical elements for any successful project.

Another exciting part of our practice relates to medical and interprofessional education. We are working with clients such as the University of South Florida and Augusta University to develop new models of pedagogy, innovative concepts for experiential and hands-on learning, and ways to facilitate interprofessional education.

We’re designing a first-of-its-kind training and sports medicine center for the Atlanta Hawks and Emory Healthcare. It’s fascinating to see the integration of science as a tool for elevating sports training and performance.

Our S+T group’s collaboration with other experts at HOK is key to our value proposition. We look to our WorkPlace team for the best thinking in creating work environments that elevate human performance. Our sustainability experts help us develop healthy spaces that promote well-being. From our Sports + Recreation + Entertainment group, our S+T team can learn about experiential design and how we can best support the emotional needs of occupants ranging from first-year science undergrads to Nobel Laureate scientists. And with the boundaries between research and healthcare dissolving, we are working more closely with HOK’s Healthcare practice.

As director of the S+T group, I ensure that we leverage all of the multifaceted expertise at HOK to bring the best thought leadership, design and service to clients. Internally, I strive to provide a platform for our amazingly talented people to grow and develop. I want everyone here to know that HOK has the world’s best S+T clients and projects.

I’m a firm believer in deep play as a tool for managing stress. I take on activities that use many of the same parts of my brain that I use for work—but in totally enjoyable, different ways. This is important for everyone who wants to pursue high performance in their professional lives. So I work very hard at being a bad clawhammer banjo player, fly fisherman, orchard farmer and beekeeper.

Science is everywhere. It is taking over everything and the key to humanity’s future. We will continue searching for new collaborators and partners that will enable us to best serve people and the planet.

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