On Tuesday, May 10, the real estate community lost one of its great thinkers and leaders, Art Gensler, the Founder of Gensler, the world’s leading design firm. This is a re-release of our November 19, 2018 Leading Voices interview with Art Gensler, who founded the eponymous-named design firm in 1965, which has grown to become the largest design firm in the world. For a fuller appreciation of Art’s life and work, visit www.gensler.com/art-gensler-legacy on the Gensler website. This original interview was sponsored by JLL and featured a joint conversation with Art and Riki Nishimura, then a Director with Gensler.
This re-release is timely given the current depth of thinking, in which Gensler is one of the world’s thought leaders, around reimagining the workplace and the future of our cities in a post-pandemic world. For a more current discussion on the topic, please also revisit our July, 2020 interview with current co-CEO of Gensler, Andy Cohen.
From original release:
When Art Gensler started his firm in 1965, Gensler solely did interiors. Today, it is not just an interior or a design firm; rather, Gensler thinks of itself as a full-scale, client-focused design firm with a team of 6,000 in 48 offices around the world.
He remembers knowing he wanted to be an architect from since he was 5 years old, and credits his ability to visualize things and communicate that vision well to his skill as a planner.
After working in the service, he went on to work for a Shreve, Lamb and Harmon in NYC, spent time in the British West Indies, and created the entire architectural standards guide for Wurster, Bernardi & Emmons. At 30, he struck out on his own.
Art says that when he founded Gensler, it started slowly by focusing on producing high-quality work. The recognition Gensler received for these early projects led him into the consulting field, and soon Gensler was being tapped by Pennzoil to do more than just interior design. Now, their workload is about 50% architecture and 50% interiors, branding, graphics, product design, and consulting.
“You’re designing space for people that they’re going to use, not just look at, but actually physically use which is the most important space that we’re going to do. So I’ve always felt that the interior is as important as the outside.”
Creating an Excellent Team
Art emphasizes that at Gensler, it’s not just about the designer. The receptionist and the accounting department get just as much recognition as the designer. And ultimately, their clients are the priority.
“Success for designers and people in our industry is not how big the pile of chips is in front of you. Success is a happy client and a successful project.”
When Apple asked Gensler to create a brand new retail experience, Art was up for the challenge. While he says it was hard work and wasn’t easy, it was a project he will always be proud of.
There’s a balance you have to strike in development. Art shares the example of how Steve Jobs never did focus groups because he said they didn’t know what was possible.
You have to push things and people out of their comfort zone to a certain point.
“We have to now really build frameworks which are adaptable and modifiable, and the inside is going to be more modifiable than the outside, but they’ve all got to be changeable because the world is changing and people have to recognize that.”
Art: Get a good, broad education. You need a breadth of knowledge to be a future contributor to society. Also, learn how to speak in public.