JUNK Architects – Kansas City

  • Published: Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014

Robert Junk, CEO of JUNK Architects (also spelled JÜNK, with an umlaut), a full-service architectural firm headquartered on Broadway in Kansas City, MO, credits magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and Mark Allen, international trade specialist with the Missouri SBDC at University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) with his firm’s recent success.

Junk founded RAD-Planning, a division of JÜNK Architects, in 2001, pioneering design standards to protect the safety of patients and continued operation and protection of imaging equipment, integrating safety with operation in radiology suites.

Why radiology?

Domestic healthcare construction was at best stagnant in the recession, so Junk turned to the SBDC at UMKC for help exporting the firm’s design services. Junk enrolled some staff in an SBA Export Training class, an intensive four-part series offered in partnership with the SBA, SBDC, KCSourceLink and the World Trade Center-Kansas City. JÜNK Architects then felt emboldened enough to pursue good contracts in Europe and especially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and are currently locked into or pursuing proposals in several other Middle Eastern and European countries. The radiology business is booming in the Middle East, with the Saudi government alone reportedly spending $20 billion a year on health care infrastructure. Largely because of RAD-Planning, the firm has increased revenue by more than 50 percent year-over-year, and expects to hire more staff shortly.

Radiology, MRI scanning and the intricacies of exporting to the Middle East are not fields Junk was trained in, however. He was always enthralled by architecture, and he and his wife earned architectural degrees from Kansas State University.

The paradoxes don’t stop there. His architect wife is also an ordained minister (and a fervent Royals fan, of course). He and Dixie established their practice on New York City’s Upper West Side, which he compares to a small town, moving back to the Midwest when they had a child. His firm’s website quotes the criminally underrated English singer-songwriter Elvis Costello, a website that also proclaims, we start at the … end (meaning the firm begins with a client’s goals before designing anything). The firm has also helped improve such fan amenities at Kauffman and Arrowhead Stadium as restrooms, and designed the striking Worth Harley Davidson building on North Oak. They’ve also done church and chapel work all over the Midwest.

That’s a lot of diversity.

How did an architecture-loving Midwestern boy end up designing radiology suites in the Middle East?

Unfortunately, through tragedy.

In 2001, a 6-year-old boy died after undergoing an MRI exam at a New York City area hospital when the machine’s powerful magnetic field jerked a metal oxygen tank across the room, crushing his skull. The force of the device’s magnets are about 30,000 times more powerful than the Earth’s magnetic field, and 200 times stronger than a common refrigerator magnet. A year before, an MRI device at a Rochester, N.Y., hospital yanked a gun out of a police officer’s hand and the gun discharged a shot.

“MRIs are unlike other modalities within radiology,” says Junk, who speaks quite easily in the often arcane terms of the field. “It had fallen through the cracks in terms of regulations. Just about everything else in radiology or nuclear medicine is based on X-ray radiation and subject to strong regulations. But MRIs don’t use X-rays, and the gauss field produced by magnets has pretty much been proven not be harmful to the human body.” (With no metal in in the room, that is.)

RAD-Planning was created specifically to address this opportunity. That a senior vice president for the firm was the only design professional to ever sit on the American College of Radiology’s MRI Safety Committee and to contribute to College guidance documents for safe MRI practices helped — “That was lucky for us!” Junk says.

As you may have gathered, Junk doesn’t think inside the box or surround himself with people who do.

MRI suite design became the focus of the firm’s marketing. The division designed their first MRI facility in full compliance with College of Radiology safety guidelines for Boone Hospital Center in Columbia. “After that, we were asked to make presentations at trade shows, do articles — it just snowballed,” says Junk.

Then came the email from Saudi Arabia. At first, Junk says he thought, “Oh great. This is like the email from that Kenyan guy, saying you’ve won the lottery,” but the firm did some research and discovered the query was legit.

“And the first thing we did was, we reached out to the UMKC SBDC to ask, ‘What resources are available? How do we go about this?’ Mark [Allen, UMKC SBDC] and the staff put us in touch with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the state of Missouri Department of Economic Development’s International Trade & Investment Office [which can help defray certain costs of traveling to trade shows abroad], and we took the classes on export financing — how to go about getting paid, cultural dos and don’ts. It was very valuable.”

Allen also provided expert business counsel based on Allen’s decades of private sector experience, sitting down with Junk and his staff to look at a variety of business topics such as cash flow, strategies to look for the right lender then secure a loan; review their export plan and timeline; review and recommend upcoming international trade shows; and much more.

Junk says Allen and the [SBDC] have been invaluable. “It’s the kind of contact you need to make the right connections,” he says.