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Visionary Architect, Art Gensler, Passes Away at Age 85

May 11, 2021
Art Gensler (1935-2021)

Pioneering American architect and visionary Art Gensler, who built a small practice into one of the largest and most admired firms in the industry, passed away peacefully at home in Mill Valley, California, on May 10, 2021, at age 85. 

The celebrated industry icon and entrepreneur possessed the vision that we not only design spaces, but we do so with the understanding that they have the power to shape how we experience the world and who we become within it. During his 65-year career, Art’s gift to the firm was an ethos that was distinguished by a belief in collaboration, support of design education and career advancement, respect for individuals, dedication to clients and endorsement of sustainable design that has allowed Gensler to continue to grow and prosper, according to a press statement from the firm.

“Art’s passing is a great loss for our industry and for me personally. He was my mentor, coach and great friend for 40 years,” said Andy Cohen, Co-CEO at Gensler. “As our founder, he helped mold my career and those of so many other Gensler leaders. He laid the foundations for the company to become a global powerhouse—one that has repeatedly been recognized as the most admired design firm in the world.”

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1935, Gensler completed his Bachelor of Architecture degree from Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning in 1958, during which time he met his wife of almost 60 years, Drucilla (Drue) Cortell Gensler. The couple married in 1957 and moved from New York to San Francisco in 1962. 

In 1965, Art and Drue co-founded M. Arthur Gensler Jr. & Associates, Inc. with James Follett in a one-room office with just one draftsman and $200 in the bank. By focusing his practice on space planning and interiors, Gensler virtually created interior design as a new category of architectural practice, bringing it to a new level of professionalism. 

First Gensler office
First Gensler office at 555 Clay. Courtesy of Gensler

Under his leadership, the firm was a pioneer in the practice of interior architecture, playing a significant role in developing client understanding of the value of the profession. 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. 

[Related: Design Pioneer and Icon Florence Knoll Basset Dies at 101]

“Art’s legacy on the industry is in how he elevated the interior design profession and drove innovation across an entire industry,” said Diane Hoskins, Co-CEO, Gensler. “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. His legacy as a person was in the way he mentored almost everyone he met. An instant friend with an open mind and a master connector of people, the built environment, and the human experience.” 

Art Gensler historical portrait
Historical Portrait of Art Gensler. Courtesy of Gensler

The reputation Gensler helped the firm secure as a model for the architectural profession led to its being the Year 2000 recipient of the American Institute of Architects’ Architecture Firm of the Year, the Institute’s highest honor to a collaborative practice. Accomplishments throughout his storied career include being named a Fellow of both the American Institute of Architects (FAIA) and the International Interior Design Association (FIIDA) and a professional member of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He received a Design Futures Council Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016. A charter member of the Interior Design Hall of Fame and a recipient of IIDA’s Star Award, he also received Ernst & Young LLP’s Lifetime Achievement Award and the Cornell Entrepreneur of the Year Award. 

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