Moscone Convention Center (2004), San Francisco. photo / Roland Halbe

M. Arthur Gensler Jr.

B.Arch. '58

Moscone Convention Center (2004), San Francisco. photo / Roland Halbe

Redefining an Industry from the Inside Out

by AAP Communications

From the moment M. Arthur "Art" Gensler Jr. (B.Arch. '58) received notification of his acceptance into the Bachelor of Architecture program at Cornell, he began what would become a 60-plus-year career as an architect, business builder, global leader, and philanthropist. Gensler was born in 1935, the only child to parents whose overriding goal, he shared, was for him to go to college. "It was one of the biggest days of our lives that I got into Cornell."

Throughout his time at Cornell, Gensler participated in athletics, the Greek system, and was actively involved in the architecture community. After graduation, he spent six months in the Army as part of his ROTC obligation and then embarked on a series of stints with a few architecture firms, starting on the east coast, moving to Jamaica, and finally landing in San Francisco. In 1965, at 30, with three kids under ten and $200 in the bank, Gensler founded M. Arthur Gensler Jr. & Associates, Inc., a three-person practice in San Francisco, with his wife Drucilla "Drue" Gensler and James Follett. Driven by a need to "make a living," Gensler began the journey of building a firm that would ultimately become the largest design practice in the world and transform the architecture discipline in myriad ways.

Black and white photo of a man in professional attire leaning against a balcony railing.

M. Arthur Gensler Jr. photo / Gensler

According to those who knew him, from the earliest days of his career, Gensler tended to see things differently. At a time when others focused almost exclusively on a building's exterior, he embraced what he called designing from the "inside out," an approach that ultimately gave rise to the field of workplace design as we know it today. Though in the 1960s and 1970s, as Gensler noted in an interview for the oral history project of the University of California Berkeley Library, even his own team questioned his approach. "My colleagues would constantly say to me, 'Art, when are we going to do real architecture?' I said, 'It's all design. You're helping people. You're creating spaces and places that will enhance the human experience and drive performance … Architecture is design, and design is inside and out,'" he recalled.

"The firm, he always said, was not about him but about all its people moving forward together," says Gensler's son David Gensler, a retired Principal and co-CEO of the firm. "Art didn't want to be a 'starchitect.' In fact, what he built was a constellation of stars by hiring smart people and getting out of their way. It's why Gensler is a pioneer in the industry, and Art's approach and philosophy will remain embedded in the firm's unique culture."

Gensler passed away in 2021 at age 85 after a lifetime of work that bred accomplishment upon accomplishment and evolved the firm, now known simply as Gensler, into an enterprise that includes over 5,500 employees in 52 locations across the globe. Over the course of his career, Gensler remained actively involved and led hundreds of monumental projects around the world. A few memorable projects include the Shanghai Tower in China, CityCenter in Las Vegas, Oracle's headquarters in Silicon Valley, the many terminals at San Francisco International Airport, and the first Gap and Apple stores.

Portrait of an elderly man dressed in a navy blue suit jacket over a light blue button-up shirt, posing inside a well-lit hallway.

Portrait of M. Arthur Gensler Jr. (1935–2021). photo / Emily Hagopian

Gensler believed that good design emphasized function, aesthetic appeal, and, above all, the needs of the client, tenants, and other users. He also felt strongly that the design process must be a collaborative effort with clients, a principle he lays out in his 2015 book, Art's Principles: 50 Years of Hard-Learned Lessons in Building a World-Class Professional Services Firm

"His vision for our firm was that, together, designers and clients can solve the world's biggest challenges," says Gensler's son Doug Gensler (B.Arch. '91), former Managing Director and Principal at Gensler. "Art created a firm that was a family, and a community that could work together and accomplish anything. He was about empowering others to lead and was passionate about making those around him successful."

In keeping with his "we, not me" philosophy, Gensler invested in his employees' growth, supporting continued education, enabling and encouraging individuals to take on new challenges, and from the beginning, believing in the value of the team and that everyone should be an owner.  He thoughtfully transitioned the firm's ownership by granting stock in the business to the firm's principals rather than selling it to them, and by providing firm ownership for all employees through a stock ownership program. Throughout his decades of leadership, he remained faithful to both business principles and design practices that yielded extraordinary results and earned the architect and the firm many accolades, including some of the discipline's highest honors.

"Art's legacy is built upon his relentless passion for elevating the industry," says current Gensler co-CEO Diane Hoskins. "Art believed that design has the power to create a better world, and we will continue to honor his vision," shares Andy Cohen, also current Gensler co-CEO. 

In 1980, Gensler was elevated to the American Institute of Architects (AIA) College of Fellows. He was inducted into Interior Design magazine Hall of Fame in 1985 and named Cornell Entrepreneur of the Year in 1995. In addition, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Ernst & Young, LLP; the President's Award from the U.S. Green Building Council; and the Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Service from the American Institute of Architects' California Council. AIA awarded the Gensler firm its Year 2000 Architecture Firm Award. In 2022, for the 42nd year in a row, the Gensler firm ranked first among Interior Design's Top 100 Giants.

Aerial view of a skyscraper and surrounding buildings.

Shanghai Tower (2015), aerial view, Shanghai. photo / Blackstation

Through the Gensler Family Foundation, Art and Drue Gensler endowed the Gensler Visiting Critic and the M. Arthur Gensler, Jr. Scholarship at Cornell to ensure that aspiring architects benefit from similar experiences and can aspire to similar success. In 2020, the Gensler family gave a $10 million gift to name and sustain the Gensler Family AAP NYC Center that Gensler helped inspire and found in 2006.

After many years of service to Cornell and AAP, Gensler was named a lifetime member of the Cornell University Council in 2002. He also received the Frank H. T. Rhodes Exemplary Alumni Service Award, the highest recognition for alumni service.

"Art Gensler's commitment to Cornell, AAP, and the architecture profession, like the man himself, was larger than life," says J. Meejin Yoon, Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of AAP. "He leaves an enduring legacy for our college that will impact many generations to come."


Wood Island Office Complex (1978)

Aerial view of a two-building complex and rooftop garage on a hilltop site.

Aerial view of the two-building complex, Larkspur, California. The design the re-creates the natural rounded effect of the hilltop site, preserves trees, and keeps parking areas from view. photo / provided

Aerial view

Two rectangular cedar-shingle clad buildings flank a long main building lined with windows bordered by wooden planks.

Exterior view, Larkspur, California. The roof shapes were designed as a series of stepped-back cedar shingle slopes. photo / provided

Exterior view

A multistory lined with windows reflects the surrounding trees at sunset.

Exterior view, Larkspur, California. photo / provided

Exterior view

Two wooden pergolas and small trees stand in front a multistory building lined with windows.

Entrance view, Larkspur, California. photo / provided


A pergola frames the entrnace to a multistory building lined with windows bordered by wooden planks.

Entrance view, Larkspur, California. photo / provided


Oracle Redwood Shores Headquarters Campus (1999)

Aerial view of tall buildings surrounding a large pool that's shaped somewhat like a sunburst.

Six office buildings, aerial view, 1.6 million square feet, Redwood Shores, California. Varying in height from 8 to 14 stories, the buildings orient to the views across the lake, culminating at a major plaza. photo / Sherman Takata

Aerial view of six office buildings

Interior view of a lobby designed with matte stone surfaces accented by a glass table on an inlay of shiny tile.

Interior view, lobby seating, Redwood Shores, California. photo / Sherman Takata

Lobby seating

A circular desk with a glossy counter overlooks benches in a lobby.

Interior view, lobby, Redwood Shores, California. photo / Sherman Takata


A long, multilane pool leads toward a two-story building lined with two rows of large windows lit up against a purple  dusk sky.

Exterior view, Redwood Shores, California. The curtainwall design reinforces the concept of interlocking, yet distinct forms in its detailing. photo / Sherman Takata

Exterior view

A crisp, rectangular main building joins two pillar-shaped buildings, clad entirely with a reflective exterior.

Exterior view, Redwood Shores, California. The glass at the upper floors is slightly reflective; the lower floors are tinted to soften the relationship between the two glass cylinders which frame views from land to water and vice-versa. photo / Sherman Takata

Exterior view

Six buildings tower over a pool at night, reflecting light shining from the building lobbies.

Night view of six office buildings, 1.6 million square feet, Redwood Shores, California. The site’s 13.7-acre lake provides the visual focus of Gensler’s master planning concept for Centrum. photo / Sherman Takata

Night view of buildings and lake

Three tall, pillar-shaped buildings reflect the surrounding clouds and bright blue sky.

Exterior view, 1.6 million square feet, Redwood Shores, California. A 7-acre public park surrounds the entire site along the existing bay slough. photo / Sherman Takata

Public park near site

Moscone West Convention Center Expansion (2004)

Cars drive past a multistory, glass building on a blue-sky day.

Exterior view, 775,000-square-foot project, San Francisco. The expansion raised the height of the building by three stories and increased the capacity of the center by 45 percent. photo / Roland Halbe

Exterior view

A well-lit, multifloor glass building stands out against a purple night sky. The building's interior lights highlight the curved edges of the main building's facade.

Exterior view, 775,000-square-foot project, San Francisco. A curved curtainwall of clear glass provides visitors with city views, and shows the activity inside the building to people who walk or drive past it. photo / Roland Halbe

Exterior curved curtainwall of clear glass

The glass facade of a multistory building reflects surrounding clouds on a blue-sky day.

Exterior view, 775,000-square-foot project, San Francisco. The building is designed with unusually high earthquake resistance to serve as a safe public shelter. photo / Sherman Takata

Exterior view

Street view of a building's glass-walled entrance and upper floors.

Exterior view, 775,000-square-foot project, San Francisco. High-performance window glass admits daylight without heat, reducing both lighting needs and cooling loads. photo / Roland Halbe

Exterior view of glass facade

 Street view of a building's entrance.

Exterior view, intersection of Fourth and Howard Streets, 775,000-square-foot project, San Francisco. photo / Roland Halbe

Exterior view

Shanghai Tower (2015)

Aerial view of a skyscraper and surrounding buildings.

Aerial view, 127 floors, 632 meters, Shanghai. photo / Blackstation

Aerial view

A skyscraper stands tall in the distance, overlooking traditional Chinese buildings decorated with paper lanterns as people ride bicycles in the street.

Tower in urban context, 127 floors, 632 meters, Shanghai. photo / Connie Zhou

Exterior view

A transparent, spiraling tower stretches into the sky.

Exterior view, curved glazed façade, 127 floors, 632 meters, Shanghai. The tower’s transparent, spiral form showcases cutting-edge sustainable strategies. photo / Connie Zhou

Tower's curved facade

Closeup view of a transparent skyscraper reflecting sunlight.

Detail view, 632 meters, Shanghai. The tower has been awarded a China Green Building Three Star rating and a LEED® Platinum Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. photo / Blackstation

Detail view of tower's transparent facade

A multistory, copper-clad building faces the street at the base of a transparent skyscraper.

Exterior view, multistory retail podium, Shanghai. photo / Connie Zhou

Multistory retail podium

San Francisco International Airport (1983–present)

Exterior view of an airport terminal. A long curving facade is lit with a yellow glow from the interior lights.

Harvey Milk Terminal 1, exterior view, San Francisco. photo / Jason O'Rear

Harvey Milk Terminal 1 exterior

A fringe-like art sculpture hangs over an escalator in an airport terminal.

Harvey Milk Terminal 1, interior view, San Francisco. photo / Jason O'Rear

Harvey Milk Terminal 1 interior

An airport terminal features a suspended sculptural artwork made from powder-coated steel tubing and greenhouse shade cloth.

Terminal 2, sculptural artwork "Topograph" by artist Kendall Buster, San Francisco. photo / Bruce Damonte

Terminal 2 interior

Exterior view of an airport terminal at night. A blue glow lights up a wing extending from the main terminal entrance.

Terminal 2, exterior view, San Francisco. photo / Nic Lehoux

Terminal 2 exterior

A man uses a touchscreen interface in front of a large flat-screen display.

Terminal 3, interior view, 65,000-square-foot renovation, San Francisco. photo / Joe Fletcher

Terminal 3 interior view

A passenger airplane is parked outside of an airport terminal at night.

Terminal 3, exterior view, 65,000-square-foot renovation, San Francisco. photo / Joe Fletcher

Terminal 3 exterior view

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