Gensler, whose eponymous practice designed many of the world’s best-known buildings — from China’s tallest skyscraper to terminals at San Francisco International Airport — passed away on Monday at his home in Mill Valley, California, following a battle with long-term illness, a company spokesperson confirmed.
Gensler’s Moscone Convention Center West in San Francisco. Credit: Courtesy Roland Halbe
In 1965, he founded M. Arthur Gensler Jr. & Associates, Inc. alongside his wife Drucilla, who died in 2017, and their business partner James Follett. But what began as a small interiors shop soon expanded its scope to span architecture, planning and consulting.
Over the decades, Gensler’s firm has designed universities, hotels, sports stadia and universities, touching almost every part of the built environment. It has created corporate headquarters for the likes of Facebook, Burberry and Hyundai, and airports from Detroit, Michigan, to Incheon, South Korea.
The Shanghai Tower twists high above Shanghai’s Pudong district. Credit: Costfoto/Barcroft Media/Getty Images
But while Gensler was renowned for reinventing the business of architecture, he was also a designer with a fixation on the user experience. With his “inside-out” philosophy informing much of its work, the firm never abandoned its founder’s interior design roots — and was even responsible for pioneering the very first Apple Stores.
This is not to say, however, that Gensler did not understand the symbolic power of architecture. For all the understated buildings he oversaw, there were also icons that redefined their skylines — not least the twisting Shanghai Tower, the world’s second-tallest building, which rises like a corkscrew more than 2,000 feet into the sky.
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“He always said there are no ‘Art Gensler buildings,'” a company spokesperson said via email, “only projects for clients and communities that entire teams created.”
A ‘master connector’
Gensler stepped down as the company’s CEO in 2005, though he continued to serve as chair until 2010. In a note to company employees, current co-CEOs Andy Cohen and Diane Hoskins paid tribute to the firm’s founder.
“He taught us all about pursuing personal passions, opening doors for our people to excel at what they love to do, and working together to redefine the profession,” Cohen wrote in the note, which was later made public. “He demonstrated how design has the power to create a better world. He showed us anything is possible.”
Gensler pictured in 2015. Credit: Emily Hagopian/Gensler
Hoskins meanwhile described him as “an instant friend with an open mind and a master connector of people, the built environment, and the human experience.”
The college’s president, Stephen Beal, meanwhile said that Gensler had approached their partnership “with an intelligence, openness, and warm, enthusiastic manner that has defined his life and career, even as he grew his namesake company from a three-person studio with a homemade drafting table to the largest design firm in the world.”
“He knew how to build things — ideas, businesses, skyscrapers, schools,” Beal is quoted as saying.
Gensler is survived by four sons, 10 grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
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