Published May 11, 2021
The Great Idea Maker
Celebrating the life and legacy of Art Gensler
By Jen Levisen
Art Gensler, the architect and entrepreneur who founded the world's largest architecture and design firm and led it for more than a half-century, died Monday of lung disease at 85. According to Gensler, he passed away peacefully in his sleep at his Mill Valley, California, home.
Born in New York in 1935, the Cornell University-educated Gensler founded his eponymous firm, then M. Arthur Gensler Jr. & Associates, Inc., in San Francisco with his wife, Drue, and associate, James Follett in 1965.
In Gensler's statement, Art founded a firm that proved to be adaptive, proactive, and client-centered from day one.
"A passionate founder of our 'one-firm firm' culture, Art embodied core values of mutual trust, respect, passion, empathy, and team spirit. Art ascribed to the "we" vs. "me" philosophy; he believed that design is an ensemble effort — in contrast to the "starchitecture" culture so prominent in the profession in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s — and he stressed the importance of teamwork, rather than individual accomplishment."
"We must recognize that design is 'coloring outside the lines.' design can be the great synthesizer. Designers must be idea makers."
- Art Gensler
A pioneer of interior architecture, Art played a significant role in developing clients’ understanding of the profession's value. “Early in his career, he recognized the need for a new architectural discipline that came to be known as tenant development,” read the statement. “Beginning with the Alcoa Building in San Francisco, the firm developed the programming practices that have become the framework for interior architectural projects throughout the profession.”
“He believed that architecture contributes measurably to the communities and organizations it serves and has the power to transform everyday life. He helped the firm embrace a diversity of projects — large and small, ambitious, and modest — and he relished that the firm's work could not be labeled with a single style. The expression of each building, he thought, should grow from the requirements of the client,” read the statement.
Now, over 55 years later, and with those core values still intact, Gensler employs more than 6,000 individuals across 50 offices around the globe earning $1.55 billion in revenue in 2020.
Gensler stepped down as chairman in 2010 but remained on as an adviser.
"Art's legacy on the industry is in how he elevated the interior design profession and drove innovation across an entire industry. His vision for our firm was that, together, designers and clients can solve the world's biggest challenges. This has never been more important than it is right now," said Diane Hoskins, Gensler Co-CEO, in the statement.
Gensler was preceded in death by his wife, Drue, who died in 2017. He is survived by his four sons and their families.
Read Gensler's full statement on the life and legacy of Art Gensler here.