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April 1, 2024 On The Record | Q&A

Amid leadership transition, Amenta Emma Architects has ambitious growth plans to become regional design leader in New England

HBJ PHOTO | STEVE LASCHEVER Amenta Emma Architects’ newly named President-elect Michael Tyre (center) stands with colleagues Mallory Hudak (right) and Anthony Kershaw inside the firm’s Hartford office.
Michael Tyre and his expanded leadership team
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Hartford-based Amenta Emma Architects last year kicked off an ambitious 10-year strategic plan, with goals that include doubling its staff size and becoming a regional design leader in New England.

The firm has already made significant strides, helped in part by a recently launched and growing Boston office, which puts the firm squarely in New England’s largest city and a strong growth market.

After winning several major projects in the second half of 2023, Amenta Emma has been adding to its staff, which is now up to about 45 employees, making early headway in its goal to be a 60- to 70-person firm by 2033.

Amenta Emma was recently selected to work on UConn’s new School of Nursing building, a new high school in Stamford, and a new dorm at Bryant University in Rhode Island.

Its services include everything from building design and technical documentation to construction oversight, or making sure projects are built the way they were originally intended.

All of that is happening as the firm goes through a leadership transition. It recently announced that co-founder Anthony “Tony” Amenta will be stepping down as president and replaced by an expanded leadership team.

Taking over the top spot will be Michael Tyre, who will serve as president-elect until assuming the role of president in January 2025. Amenta will remain involved with the firm in an advisory capacity.

Tyre, 47, has been with Amenta Emma since 2015, most recently serving as director of design and head of the firm’s higher education practice.

Now Tyre, who received his master’s degree in architecture from Princeton University, will have oversight of the entire firm, including helping it achieve its strategic growth goals.

“We have a very clear roadmap of where we want to be in 10 years,” Tyre said. “My primary responsibility is getting us there. I think we’ve made some great strides in the work we’ve produced, the talent we’ve attracted, and our position in the marketplace as it relates to design here in Connecticut. We want to take that to a broader region.”

Growth, Tyre said, isn’t just about adding to employee counts and revenues. The firm also wants to be a design leader, including in terms of broader considerations, like sustainability and equity and inclusion.

He noted that 40% of carbon emissions come from buildings, and architects have a professional responsibility to consider and incorporate green construction elements that address concerns related to climate change.

“We are trying to establish our brand as a design leader throughout New England,” Tyre said.

Staying in Hartford

Amenta Emma has three main focus areas. The two busiest, Tyre said, are academic, including K-12 and higher education projects, and community, which is a broad category that includes affordable and market rate multifamily housing as well as public works projects, community centers and senior- and assisted-living facilities.

The third focus area is interiors, which includes office space design, a market that got significantly disrupted by the pandemic.

Amenta Emma’s Boston office is growing organically and is now up to about 10 employees, including Eric Weyant, who was brought on last year as a principal to lead further market expansion.

Most of the firm’s remaining staff reports to the Hartford office, which is currently at 242 Trumbull St., although that location could change. Amenta Emma’s lease at 242 Trumbull is scheduled to expire next year, and the building, which was recently sold, is being considered for an apartment conversion.

Amenta Emma President-elect Michael Tyre shows off the firm’s latest designs for upcoming projects.

Tyre declined to comment on any pending lease negotiations, but he did say the firm will remain headquartered in Hartford.

Here’s what else Tyre had to say. The Q&A was edited for length and clarity.

Can you talk about the process that led to you being named president?

A. The succession of the firm has been something that’s been talked about and planned for some time. I think our firm ownership had always looked to a second chapter, the next generation at Amenta Emma taking over as opposed to selling the company, or something like that.

What will Tony Amenta’s role be moving forward?

A. He’s been spending a lot of time in Boston over the last few years and helping us get that office launched.

He’s a natural sales guy, he loves that, and so he’s really going to be focused primarily on our business development efforts, not only in Boston, but all of New England, over these next few years.

Why did the firm decide to expand into Boston?

A. While it’s relatively close in proximity, it’s a completely unique business climate compared to Connecticut.

Boston is a growth market, so in some sense it was an opportunistic move, while still being within the reach of our Hartford office. The complexities of opening up a branch office in Los Angeles would be a lot greater as opposed to a location in Boston, where we could transplant some existing staff in the early stages.

And Boston, I think, shows some strong fundamentals on its future for growth in a lot of the areas where we focus, like housing and higher education. All of that influenced our choice to be there.

One of the other big opportunities in Boston is the talent pool that exists there, which will help us attract really high-level architects and interior designers. We’re actively looking for more office space in Boston because we’ve already outgrown the first space we’re in.

You said you were bullish about the growth of your academic practice, yet demographic trends suggest there will be fewer people attending U.S. colleges in the near future. Can you explain that paradox?

A. Despite the demographic trends to suggest that there are fewer students entering college, college campus facilities and the built environment play a big role in how schools attract students.

They’re all trying to attract the best students and faculty to their campuses, and the physical spaces are a big part of that. And so, I think we still have a lot of opportunity to grow in market share in that particular segment.

Also, the Boston area has a very high concentration of higher-ed institutions.

In the academic space, are there any particular types of projects you’re seeing in demand right now?

A. I think, post-pandemic, there’s been a lot of focus on improving the social experience — there is a huge desire and emphasis on face-to-face interaction.

So, you’re seeing a lot more emphasis on projects such as student centers, exterior student spaces around bringing people together, we’re seeing a huge demand in on-campus housing, to create live, work, play environments.

There’s also still a macro trend around STEM in the United States, so you’re seeing new colleges of engineering and computer science.

I think we’re also seeing projects that respond to workforce needs, like the new School of Nursing at UConn. We’ve done several projects with Quinnipiac University related to their nursing program.

We are about to finish construction this summer on a new 450-bed residence hall at Quinnipiac University. We completed a new admissions center at Quinnipiac about a year and a half ago.

How did the pandemic impact the workplace segment of your business?

A. There’s a general downsizing trend with companies and their space profiles, and that’s certainly reflective of the work-at-home model. We’re definitely seeing that continue as a trend.

In addition to that, though, what’s in the office in terms of amenities, technology, and the types of spaces has certainly changed since the pandemic. A key consideration many employers are asking about is: ‘What is it about the office space that’s going to attract people to come back? What’s unique about being at the office that you can’t do at home, and how does that change the way these spaces work?’

The office is really a place of face-to-face interaction and collaboration first and foremost, so you are seeing employers incorporate more social spaces, like work cafes and breakout spaces and libraries, different areas where your employees have mobility during the day, and can move around, much like you do at home.

They are building more of that personal choice into the office environment and trying to create a place that really supports belonging.

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