The Legacy of M. Arthur Gensler Jr.
May 14, 2021
Written by Shan Arcega
Photos Courtesy of Gensler
“I believe the words ‘I’ and ‘Me’ are all wrong. It’s about ‘We’ and ‘Us.’ “
– Art Gensler
Gensler is one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing architecture firms in the world. So far, this 56-year old firm has spread its hand through offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Greater China, the Middle East, and the Asia Pacific. This Monday, May 10, its innovative and business-centric founder Art Gensler died at age 85 in his Mill Valley home after months of fighting lung disease.
Before his death, however, Gensler was able to grow his small interior design business into one of the architecture world’s giants. Over the many decades, Gensler has extended its services to architecture, planning, and consulting. With its team of over 5,000 highly talented employees, its portfolio has overflowed with a mass of impressive structures for famous brands including Facebook, Apple, Burberry, and Hyundai. These are just some of the projects it has completed. Being the humungous firm it is, its portfolio contains a lot more than commercial structures and has a collection of projects–buildings, interiors, and even branding–that give it the rightful status as one of the architecture world’s giants.
Co-CEO of Gensler, andy Cohen says that this reputation is partly thanks to Art Gensler’s client-centric approach in design and construction which opposes the run-of-the-mill architect’s tendency to ignore their client’s needs and wants.
“They want to make their iconic design. Art was the opposite,” Cohen says, “He wanted to embody himself in the client’s philosophy and culture, to really understand and design a unique, one-of-a-kind building or interior for that client specifically.”
One impressive structure in the Asia Pacific is the Viettel Group Headquarters in Vietnam. A LEED Silver certified building carrying the 2019 Asia Pacific International Property Awards, this structure has an elegant design that ties workplace and landscapes with an emphasis on sustainability and urban biodiversity. Along with an expanse of skylights, the crescent-shaped building has a rainwater harvesting system and an expansive green roof featuring native plants.
Most recently, Gensler also collaborated with architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro to complete the renovation and expansion for New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) which would now feature a new lobby, bookstore, cafe, and several gallery spaces.
The iconic Shanghai Tower can’t be excluded from this narrative, of course. Famous for being the tallest building in China, this towering structure is 632 meters high and has a transparent and spiral form showcasing modern sustainable strategies that have given it a China Green Building Three-Star Rating and a LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)–a non-profit organization promoting sustainability in building design, construction, and operation. 12- stories tall, the Shanghai tower has Class A office spaces, entertainment venues, retail spaces, a conference center, cultural amenity spaces, and even a luxury hotel.
In America, Gensler also boasts the recognition for designing the San Francisco International Airport’s Terminal 2. This project mostly focused on incorporating the firm’s signage and wayfinding program that ties technology with easily changeable directional signage that adapts to the terminal’s evolving information needs. This program has become the airport’s new wayfinding standard and is famous for using elegant and durable signages that feature bold and highly legible typography with internationally understandable symbols.
Prior to the creation of high-profile projects like this and even more projects like the iconic Shanghai Tower, Art Gensler attended Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. Years later, Gensler has become a huge influence in the architecture world and was known for being a fellow of the renowned American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the International Interior Design Association (IIDA)–two of the highly influential architecture and design organizations in the U.S.
In 2010, Art Gensler renounced his position as the firm’s chairman and continued with devoting his time to philanthropy. His own devotion to philanthropy has been the firm’s forefront in the cultivation of community ties and the creation of more innovative and modern cities that highlight sustainability, paving the way for more eco-friendly communities.