Amy Korte
President, Arrowstreet
Age: 44
Industry experience: 18 years 

As resiliency and mobility issues approach crisis proportions in Greater Boston, Amy Korte is using technology to optimize designs and operations of new developments. Korte was named president of Arrowstreet, the Boston-based architecture firm that she joined in 2008, in May. Korte helped launch its Innovation and Research Studio (AIR), which researches the potential applications of mixed-reality in building design and urban planning. Arrowstreet’s notable projects include Related Beal’s Congress Square development in Boston’s Financial District, the first net zeroemissions school in Cambridge and Brooklyn Boulders’ fitness center in Allston. 

Q: What’s the focus of Arrowstreet’s AIR studio right now?
A: We have a bunch of different tangents. It’s really part of our project looking at the future technological impacts on cities: including mixed and virtual and augmented reality. We’re looking at everything: how the tech is used to visualize the spaces in our buildings, how to geolocate the buildings on the construction site before they’re installed and looking 10 years out for mixed reality, when you get Google Glass 2.0 and we have virtual information overlaid on the physical environment. We’re looking at climate change, resiliency, urban heat islands, carbon capture, materials and autonomous vehicles. 

Q: Between Boston’s new compact living pilot and the emergence of co-housing style projects, which new residential models do you see starting to gain traction?
A: Compact living and the microunits had a head start. There are more co-living models that are coming into the city now. What is the right scale for co-living? Humans are social animals. We want to be near people. How do you measure happiness and community hubs, and what is the right scale? 

Q: How are autonomous vehicles influencing parking garage designs?
A: In our projects, we’re cutting down on the number of parking spaces with transitional technology. Parcel K [in Boston’s Seaport District] is a great example of that. We got it approved in 2014 with 640 parking spaces on three levels. Now it’s under construction with one level with higher floor heights, transitional stackers and valet parking. You’re looking at a different way of operating the garage. 

Q: Was the cantilever design on Parcel K part of the resiliency strategy?
A: That was to maximize the views and create a series of outdoor rooms moving up the face. That cantilever allowed us to get more units with a waterfront view, while creating a nice space with the restaurant below it. That was Massport’s first project looking at the higher category 3 hurricane requirements, protecting the critical infrastructure. 

Q: Now that architects have had time to assess the performance of open-format workspaces, what’s the latest thinking on their effect on productivity?
A: We all know by now open offices are not what they were hyped up to be and they decrease collaboration. We’ve been using our own office as a lab and we’ve started to measure some of our clients’ spaces, installing sensors in our offices and understanding which meeting rooms and spaces are getting used. Instead of relying on anecdotes, you’re relying on the data. There are more nuanced ways of accommodating the flexible ways to work. 

Q: What’s your advice for people looking for an entry-level job in the industry?
A: Thinking about what you can combine with your architecture degree. Architecture has so many great tangents. We hired a marine ecologist last summer to evaluate two sites in East Boston: the Hess Oil site and our Addison Street project, which is transforming an overflow lot for Avis rental cars into a residential development with substantial landscaped open space.  

For the Hess Oil site, she proposed restoring the intertidal ecosystem of Chelsea Creek through a seawall that doubles as stepped tidepools. The tidepools would provide a habitat for low-, mid- and high-intertidal species and enhance biodiversity within the creek. For our Addison project, she helped us develop the design through the perspective of an ecological corridor, addressing how environmental conditions will change over time to allow landward migration of plant species. 

Q: What’s Arrowstreet’s growth strategy?
A: We’re at about 100 people and we’re at a good size. Our goal is not to grow into a mega-firm, it’s much more to stay a boutique firm that is able to have multiple practice areas. We see these typologies  residential, hotel, retail, schools  beginning to converge on each other. Our goal is to stay at that sweet spot. Our role as architects is not just making buildings, but tools for our clients. It’s a way to evaluate the building after it’s occupied, and layer on different augmented experiences onto the building and have them work. 

Korte’s Top Five Books to Read this Summer: 

  1. Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist, by Kate Raworth 
  2. Phyto, by Kate Kennen and Niall Kirkwood 
  3. Where are the Utopian Visionaries? Architecture of Social Exchange, edited by Hansy Better Barraza 
  4. Upstream: Selected Essays, by Mary Oliver 
  5. The Girl UNinterrupted: The Boston Experiment 2017-2018 manual, by Juliet Chun and Zhanina Boyadzhieva 

Viewing Architecture Through a New Lens

by Steve Adams time to read: 3 min