- Sara Stevens
American architectural firm started by Arthur Gensler Drue Gensler, and Jim Follett in 1965 in San Francisco, CA. M. Arthur Gensler jr (b Brooklyn, New York, 1935) attended Cornell University to study architecture (BArch, 1957). The firm began doing build-outs for retail stores and corporate offices, and initially established itself in the unglamorous area of interior architecture. Thirty years later and without mergers or acquisitions, it had grown to become one of the largest architecture firms in the world, having pioneered the global consultancy firm specializing in coordinated rollouts of multi-site building programmes. By 2012 the firm had over 3000 employees in over 40 offices. From the beginning, Art Gensler conceived of a global firm with multiple offices serving corporate clients whose businesses were becoming more international. Instead of the ‘starchitect’ model of his contemporaries such as I. M. Pei or Paul Rudolph, Gensler wanted an ego-free office that existed to serve client needs, not pursue a designer’s aesthetic agenda at the client’s expense. By adopting new web-based computing technologies and integrated design software in the early 1990s, the firm stayed well connected across their many offices and were more able than their competitors to manage large multi-site projects. Expanding from the services a traditional architecture firm offers, the company pushed into new areas well suited to their information technology and interiors expertise, such as organizational design, project management, and strategic facilities planning.
Early projects included office interiors for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Alcoa building in San Francisco, CA (1967), Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Bank of America tower in San Francisco, CA (1969), and Philip Johnson’s Pennzoil Place in Houston, TX (1976). Working through developers, Gensler found more work in other American cities, opening offices for a project’s duration with the intention of finding more work to keep the satellite offices running. By the 1980s the firm was designing stand-alone buildings, including department stores, cinemas, office buildings, and airports. By the 1990s the firm was working globally. Gensler’s major markets have been retail, airports, entertainment, and offices (including government). Clients have included Apple, Cushman & Wakefield, Hewlett Packard, Goldman Sachs, Oracle, Walmart, the Gap, Bank of America, Supercuts, Aetna Life & Casualty, Sony Imax, American Airlines, American Express, AT&T, Bell Atlantic Corporation, Disney, Ernst & Young, General Motors Corporation, IBM Corporation, Lucent Technologies, and McDonald’s.
In the 1990s Gensler adopted the use of computers in the design of store prototypes and in the rollout of worldwide construction programmes of a hundred or more buildings at one time for a single client. Their methods for managing complex, large-scale rollouts gave them greater control over budgets, tightened project schedules, and allowed volume discounts in purchasing fixtures, mechanical systems, and furniture. (In 1995, 95% of the office’s work was done on computers (Rifkin, 40).) Gensler was not the first to standardize design across different buildings—McDonald’s fast-food restaurants pioneered that, and others, such as Holiday Inn hotels, followed suit—but their management of the process set them apart. For clients anxious to expand, Gensler’s methods help them enter new markets quickly, cheaply, and expediently. For Walmart, Gensler was hired to roll out the international expansion and prepare prototypes to fit different overseas markets, working as a consultant to find and hire local consultants to build off the prototype Gensler design.
Gensler rethought the normal pattern for the client–architect relationship. The firm saw its role as consultant to a client, providing services rather than handing over a set of drawings. In transitioning to a consultancy, the firm had more leeway to reengineer their package of standard services to include a broader array of real estate development, legal, graphic design, product design, strategic planning, and branding work. (A more typical expansion of services for an architecture firm would have been to add engineering; Gensler did not add in-house engineers.) Gensler reformatted client billing, moving away from the typical hourly billing cycles to one based on delivery of a design that included the typical consultants plus additional construction, management, and legal services. Their project management techniques and elevation of interior architecture as a legitimate form of practice instead of the domain of decorators and interior designers set a new standard for large corporate architecture firms and opened new possibilities for architectural practice at the scale of global capital.
- M. A. Gensler: A Rational Approach to Office Planning: An AMA Management Briefing (New York, 1978)
- M. A. Gensler: Developing the Architecture of the Workplace: Gensler, 1967–1997 (New York, 1998)
- A. Iannacci, ed.: Gensler Architecture: Form + Strategy (New York, 1999)
- A. Iannacci, ed.: Gensler Entertainment: The Art of Placemaking (New York, 2001)
- The Passenger Experience: Gensler Airports (New York, 2002)
- P. B. Brandt: Office Design (New York, 1992)
- ‘M. Arthur “Goose” Gensler Jr.’, Forbes (11 April 1995), p. 44
- G. Rifkin: ‘Gensler & the Art of Rollouts’, Forbes (11 April 1995), pp. 40–44
- A. Iannacci: Gensler: The Architecture of Entertainment (Milan, 1996)
- B. McKee: ‘Art Gensler: The Boss’, Architecture (May 2000), p. 127
- W. Hunt and D. Hoskins: ‘Interview with Gensler’, Perspecta 40 (1 Jan 2008), pp. 186–93
- J. K. Dineen: ‘A Businessman First, Designer Second—San Francisco Business Times’, San Francisco Business Times (29 Nov 2009) http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/stories/2009/11/23/focus6.html?page=all (accessed 5 June 2014)
- K. Granet: The Business of Design: Balancing Creativity and Profitability (New York, 2011)
- B. Ikenson: ‘Gensler’s Secret Sauce’, Metropolis Magazine (June 2013)