Very little can be said about 2016 AIACC Lifetime Achievement recipient, Arthur Gensler, Jr. FAIA, FIIDA, RIBA that hasn’t already been heard or written in very prominent media publications. And, although this award seems an ideal and perfect measure of reflection on all the many successes Gensler, the man, has accomplished, well that’s just not his style. According to him, the credit should be attributed to a “constellation of stars”—a constellation comprised of thousands of stars within the world’s largest architecture firm.
“It’s about the firm to me,” Gensler said when asked about what an award of this nature means to him or the architectural empire he created. “I did found this adventure so it’s a very nice recognition, but it would never have flown, taken off, or be as successful without all these stars within the firm.”
Gensler is indeed its own galaxy. The largest architectural firm in the world employs more than 5,000 in 46 cities across the globe. Although, beginnings were humble with a party of 3: Gensler himself; Drue, his wife, and their associate Jim Follett. However, that was in 1965, and the firm only grew from there.
Part of the success is respect for the clients. When one visits their web site and clicks on the “About” page, the first thing to come up is a by-the-numbers chart of the clients they serve. Gensler himself has very unpretentious philosophies about who clients are and the knowledge with which they come. “You can learn something from everybody,” Gensler explained. “Aesthetics is only one tiny piece of being a designer. You have to listen and remember you live in a world of a lot of diverse groups. Don’t just talk to designers. Learn from your clients.”
These philosophies served the Gensler portfolio well. The firm did not simply stick to one type of structure or program but branched out to interiors, skyscrapers, art, retail, etc. “I see a need and I like to figure out a solution for it,” he said. This curiosity has served him well. From wine labels, to the second largest sky scraper in Shanghai to a chain of Gap Stores, the firm is not in the habit of turning away potential opportunities. “Somebody’s got to do it, and somebody’s got to do it well,” he said. Which may be exactly how he landed in the publishing world as of late.
One of Gensler’s most recent projects was publishing a book, Art’s Principles. As quoted from his (“Non-technical”) introduction: “I wrote this book because it is the one I wish existed when I ventured out to start my own firm.” Although Gensler is not new to the world of writing, (for example, read his take on learning the power of storytelling by working with Steve Jobs ). The project morphed from his hand-written notes into 291 pages of profound advice written in approachable, conversational tone. And even better: this book is applicable to nearly anyone—architect or otherwise. It’s filled with advice on how to run a successful business and remember that nothing is accomplished by one person. “We [Gensler] don’t specialize in any one thing. We solve client problems, using the power of design. In today’s complex world, nothing is done by one person. There is a team from beginning to end.” But don’t take his word for it. “What is in the book is my way, which may not be the best,” he warned. Although the reviews have been positive and vary from doctors to lawyers to others in the world of design. All seem to take something away from it, which leads one to believe that his advice, if not the best, is pretty darn good. (Oh, and mention of the “constellation” begins on page 28, suggestions of the team approach:
“We also established our ‘constellation of stars’ approach rather than a ‘single star’ mindset.”
Gensler officially stepped down as chair of the firm in 2010, although he still goes into work in the San Francisco office every day to be a part of the successful, team-driven constellation, if even to lift an already positive morale. He can be found in the office most days thinking or developing strategy, although he self-proclaims his stance as “cheerleader of the firm in some ways.” Which is exactly how a bright star in a constellation of thousands would view a lifetime achievement award.
Click here to view Gensler’s Lifetime Achievement Award submittal.