Art Gensler thinks highly of his decision to open offices in Houston.
Hyundai Card Air lounge, Seoul, Korea
Hilti North America Headquarters, Plano
Duke University, Kunshan, China
Architecture and design powerhouse Gensler takes on super skyscrapers in Shanghai, San Francisco International Airport, the London Stock Exchange and historic neighborhoods in Texas. With the firm celebrating a 50th anniversary, Art Gensler looks back — and forward.
Art Gensler was 30 years old when he founded his namesake architecture firm, M. Arthur Gensler Jr. & Associates, in San Francisco in 1965. Armed with a degree in architecture from Cornell University, where he had been an all-Ivy soccer star, Gensler launched his firm amid humble beginnings. The company opened for business in borrowed offices, with $200 in the bank and two employees, including his wife, Drue, who did the bookkeeping.
Gensler is now the largest architecture and design firm in the world, with a staff of 5,000 in 46 locations with projects spanning the globe, from offices, churches and stores to skyscrapers and airport terminal renovations and additions. Its portfolio includes golden clients such as Apple, the London Stock Exchange, Goldman Sachs, The New York Times, Neiman Marcus, The Ritz-Carlton and the San Francisco International Airport.
Condé Nast’s new global headquarters opened in One World Trade Center in early 2015, amid a buzz of attention for its ultra-chic interiors, provided by Gensler. The gravity-defying 128-floor Shanghai Tower in Shanghai’s financial district, which opened in September 2015, is classified as the tallest building in Asia, the second tallest worldwide, and is testament to Gensler’s legendary research and development skills.
Clad entirely in double-layered insulating glass that provides sunlight for 27 sky gardens, the building’s tapered, twisted design helps protect it from typhoon-level winds. Lighted entirely by LEDs, the tower’s wind turbines generate enough energy to illuminate the building at night. The $2.4 billion project’s long list of sustainable design elements makes it quite possibly the greenest super sky-rise on the planet.
Global design domination aside, Gensler’s Texas roots run deep. The firm’s first expansion outside of San Francisco was Houston, where it opened offices in 1972. “I don’t look back, but if I did, I’d have to say that opening and growing offices in Houston and [later] Denver were milestones,” says Gensler, 80, of his foray into the area’s booming hospitality and commercial construction landscape, which included landmark buildings for IBM and Pennzoil that forever changed the Houston skyline.
A Dallas office opened in 1997 and, in the years since, has created such diverse projects as offices for the Dallas Opera and an overhaul of Reunion Arena’s observation deck. Recent Gensler Dallas projects include the Holly Hunt showroom, Addison-based Bottle Rocket, and a new nine-acre development for the historic Bishop Arts District in the Oak Cliff area, with retail, residential and a boutique hotel, set for completion in 2017. In Houston, new projects include River Oaks District (a 650,000-square-foot mixed-use development of restaurants, offices and luxury retail), and the firm is also working on several new hotels, including Hotel Alessandra downtown.
IN THE BEGINNING.
Art Gensler: “I hoped to do garage remodeling and a few interiors and buildings. I never envisioned growing into a large firm. I was hoping to build a firm that could support my wife and three children.”
“I wouldn’t change anything. I am most proud of the people I’ve hired who have stayed with us throughout their careers. And, I am proud of the clients whom we have worked with and who stayed clients — many for over 30 years.”
ELEVATION OF INTERIOR DESIGN.
“When I started, most architectural firms had little interest in interiors. As clients realized that quality interiors were important to their business, architectural firms began designing interiors. It’s quite a profitable and rewarding business. Both architecture and interiors affect people’s lives. Little is taught in architectural schools about interior design, yet the reason we build buildings is usually to use the interiors, not just look at the outside.
“I’m always anxious to do something new. Right now we are doing research on the impact of the digital world on education, and I hope that what comes out of that research will be a totally new model for K-12 schools. I am personally troubled by the poor performance of the American students compared to others in the world. We can’t continue to do things the same way and expect better results. We are therefore working with a few charter schools in Northern California to develop a new education model. This will require a different facility to support the impact of digital education on the teaching methods. We are just starting the physical trials after extensive research and hopefully building a few new prototype schools.”
“I’d like to be a professional golfer, but I am a hopeless amateur. I have one love, and that is the field of design.”