Kayoko Karatsu, RA, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Principal Architect & New York City (NYC) Architecture Organization Manager
Location: New York, N.Y.

“At Gannett Fleming, I have the opportunity to shape the future and partner with clients in the educational space, putting emphasis on the students, faculty, and staff who will use the facilities.”

With a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Nihon University and nearly three decades of architectural design experience in the U.S. and Japan, Kayoko Karatsu is well-versed in working with public sector clients, particularly on NYC School Construction Authority (NYC SCA) projects.

In July 2022, Kayoko joined NYC SCA representatives for a roundtable discussion of NYC’s universal 3-K and Pre-K program during the American Institute of Architects New York Architecture for Education Committee’s professional development event. As the lead architect for the fast-track transformation of an 11,735-square-foot Dollar Tree retail store into a five-classroom 3-K center in the heart of the Bronx, Kayoko enjoyed discussing the design and construction of learning spaces for NYC’s youngest learners.

We asked Kayoko a few questions. Get to know her here:

Why Gannett Fleming?

I have been a Gannett Fleming employee for a little over three years now and was initially attracted to the company because of its focus on public work, specifically with the NYC SCA. Here, I have the opportunity to shape the future and partner with clients in the educational space, putting emphasis on the students, faculty, and staff who will use the facilities.

Shortly after I joined the firm, I was promoted to NYC architecture organization manager based on my past experience in a similar position and as an acknowledgment of my early accomplishments at Gannett Fleming. It has been a rewarding experience leading a team of talented architects and designers in NYC and observing the growth of our collective capabilities.

Tell us about your role and responsibilities.

As a principal architect and the NYC architecture organization manager, I manage teams and projects for numerous public sector entities. Most notable are my 15 years of interfacing with all levels of personnel at NYC SCA on K-12 projects, including interior renovations, room conversions, exterior modernizations, upgrades of public assembly spaces, and new school construction. I also apply my broad architectural project experience to higher education.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

Overseeing projects from inception to completion, especially the aspects of advancing architectural design and playing a key role in developing Gannett Fleming’s architectural portfolio for K-12 schools and campuses. As architectural organization manager for NYC, I enjoy mentoring junior staff and seeing them grow from architectural designers to future leaders.

What do you see for the next generation of employees at Gannett Fleming?

At Gannett Fleming, there’s a big push for innovation. I see the next generation utilizing highly advanced technology for project delivery. I always encourage staff to look for innovative solutions to deliver our projects in a way that brings value to our clients, as well as the communities that we serve.

How does your work contribute to Gannett Fleming’s vision of creating a better future, together?

My colleagues and I are working to build a more sustainable world, and my LEED accreditation helps as it is particularly applicable to SCA Green Schools’ requirements. Much of my work with the SCA is improving existing buildings. This includes incorporating sustainable practices such as tightening building envelopes and adding photovoltaic systems. We’re also focusing on extending the life of these existing buildings for the next generation and making them more energy-efficient for the long haul.

What’s one achievement of which you’re especially proud?

Transitioning from Japan to the U.S. and succeeding in the architectural world as both a woman and a minority.

What is your leadership style?

I respect my staff members as individuals, encourage their growth, and require quality performance.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Always stand up for what you believe is right. Another great piece of advice is to not forget to slow down and take care of yourself.

Why is it important to have diversity around the table when working on projects?

People from different backgrounds provide valuable and often unexpected perspectives.

What can AEC firms do internally to celebrate diversity and create a stronger sense of belonging across diverse groups?

Create and maintain a safe and welcoming culture, where all employees are encouraged to communicate openly and share experiences with one another.

What qualities have helped you reach your current professional position?

I believe my strong work ethic, my willingness to go above and beyond on any project, and my understanding of a sensible work-life balance have made me a more valuable employee and helped me continue to advance in my career.

What are your favorite hobbies?

Yoga, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), traveling, jewelry design and creation, Japanese crafts, interior design consultation for friends, and illustrating children’s books.

What’s your favorite family tradition?

Because my close family members all live in Japan, I’d say Hatsumōde is my favorite tradition. This is when, for the first three days of the Japanese New Year, people wait in lines at temples and shrines to start their year with good fortune.

What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?

My age.

If you could trade places with anyone for a day, who would you choose and why?

I am happy as Kayoko, so I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.

If you could live in any city, where would it be and why?

Laguna Beach in California. It’s closer to Japan and would save me travel money and time.

With a projector screen behind her, Kayoko presents to an audience as part of a roundtable discussion with six other people.
Kayoko added to a roundtable discussion on the design and construction of learning spaces for NYC’s youngest learners.