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Industry icon Art Gensler dead at 85

He was credited with creating a model for the modern, growth-oriented professional services organization. 

May 10, 2021 |
Art Gensler, founder, gensler, passes away

From 1965 to 2005, Art Gensler led the firm that became a global, multipractice giant. Image: Gensler

    

Art Gensler, FAIA, FIIDA, RIBA, cofounder of Gensler, the world’s largest architecture firm, passed away Monday morning at his home in Mill Valley, Calif., at the age of 85.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Gensler had been battling lung disease over the last 18 months.

The firm was originally called M. Arthur Gensler Jr. and Associates, when Gensler, his wife Drucilla, and James Follett, a draftsperson, started the company in 1965. Gensler is widely credited with creating the blueprint for how professional service firms are organized and managed. He led Gensler until 2005, when the company’s Board of Directors introduced its current co-leadership management structure. He stepped down as chairman in 2010 though continued serving as an advisor to the firm for seven more years.

During his leadership tenure, Gensler saw the firm expand into a full-service practice whose interdisciplinary approach he helped craft. The firm that Art Gensler founded currently serves 28 practice areas from 50 offices around the globe. The company’s revenue hit $1.55 billion in 2020, continuing an upward trend that dated to 2010. Gensler is 100% owned by its 5,200 employees through direct shares and its ESOP plan.

In its 2020 annual report, Gensler stated that in 2019 alone its employees had worked on more than 7,000 projects representing over 1.5 billion sf of space. Its portfolio that year was designed to save over 16 million tons of CO2 emissions.

“Art’s lasting legacy is an ethos that only he could have created—a standard that allowed the firm to grow and prosper,” wrote Gensler’s co-CEOs Diane Hoskins, FAIA, NCARB, and Andy Cohen, FAIA, IIDA, in a remembrance they posted this evening. They added that Gensler championed an adaptive, proactive, and client-focused approach “that treated service as a privilege and clients as partners.”

ORIGINALLY FOCUSED ON OFFICE INTERIORS

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1935, Gensler earned a degree from Cornell University’s College of Architecture in 1958. Upon graduation, he worked for architecture firms in New York and Jamaica. He and his wife Drue migrated to California in the early 1960s, where Gensler worked for a few architectural firms, including Wurster, Bernardi, and Emmons. While at Wurster, he played a vanguard role establishing design standards for the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, then under construction.

When he opened his own shop, Gensler initially pioneered interiors for new office buildings. The firm started expanding domestically in the 1970s and 1980s, and then internationally in the ‘80s and ‘90s. (Among his accolades, Gensler was a professional member of the Royal Institute of British Architects.)

In 2015, he published Art’s Principles, which chronicled his 50 years in business and lessons learned. The book covers such topics as leadership, talent acquisitions and growth strategies.

Last January, Gensler made a $10 million gift to Cornell’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, whose program he helped create in 2006. As a result of that gift, the New York City location will be renamed the Gensler Family AAP NYC Center.

Gensler was predeceased by his wife, who died in 2017. He is survived by four sons and their families, 10 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

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