May 12, 2021

M. Arthur "Art" Gensler Jr., 1935–2021

Gensler (B.Arch. '58) has been a long-standing supporter and friend of Cornell and the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning.

by Patti Witten

M. Arthur "Art" Gensler Jr. photo / Emily Hagopian; Gensler

Celebrated as a global architect, astute entrepreneur, and founder of a small practice that became one of the largest and most successful firms in the industry, Brooklyn-born M. Arthur "Art" Gensler Jr. passed away on Monday, May 10 at age 85. Gensler is gratefully and warmly known for his generosity and commitment to Cornell and the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning throughout his 65-year career.

"Grounded yet optimistic, matter-of-fact yet prescient, Art Gensler always saw things not just as they were, but as they could be," says J. Meejin Yoon, Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. "For some, he was a titan and giant of the industry, for others he was a warm mentor and loyal champion — and to all, he demonstrated how to lead by investing in others. His unwavering commitment and generosity to AAP and to the education of architects, planners, and artists, came in many catalytic forms from endowed positions and student scholarships to the Gensler Family AAP NYC Center. He leaves an enduring legacy for our college that will impact many generations to come."

A 1958 graduate of AAP's B.Arch. program, Gensler's career was guided by an ethos of putting people first. With his wife Drucilla "Drue" and James Follett, Gensler cofounded M. Arthur Gensler Jr. & Associates, Inc. in San Francisco in 1965. The firm now has offices in the U.S., the Middle East, Latin America, Europe, China, and Asia. Gensler stepped down from the chairmanship of Gensler & Associates in 2010.

Gensler, the firm, was recently recognized for their designs for the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice, UPCycle, and Etsy's Brooklyn-based headquarters. The projects received three of the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment (COTE) Top Ten Awards in 2020. Additionally, the firm is committed to increasing access to the profession for the next generation, with nearly $300,000 in scholarships awarded to students and graduates over the last 20 years.

Gensler, the architect, was a fellow of both the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), a charter member of Interior Design Magazine's Hall of Fame, and a recipient of IIDA's Star Award. He was also a professional member of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and a cofounder of the AIA's National Interior Architecture Committee.

photo / Gensler

In 2005, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year® Program in Northern California. As a licensed architect and industry leader, he was a visiting professor at Cornell, Berkeley, and Arizona State universities and a frequent guest lecturer at colleges and universities across the country. He also served as a trustee of the Buck Institute for the Aging, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and was chair of the board at the California College of Arts.

In 1999, Gensler and Drue founded the Gensler Family Foundation to support higher education, geriatric research, and the arts. The foundation also helped to establish and support AAP's New York City-based program. Recent gifts directed to AAP NYC include the Gensler Family Sesquicentennial Executive Director of AAP NYC held by Robert W. Balder, and a $10M gift to AAP in 2020 to enable the college to sustain the New York City program in perpetuity as the Gensler Family AAP NYC Center. Foundation endowments also include the Gensler Visiting Critic Fund, the Gensler Visiting Lecturer of Professional Practice, the Gensler Scholarship, and AAP's annual fund.

"Arthur Gensler embodies the values we want our Cornell AAP students to embrace, especially his commitment to design excellence, leadership, and collaboration," shares Balder. "His generosity and willingness to share his knowledge with others are legendary, and the commitment he and his family have shown to our college make the Gensler Family AAP NYC Center an irreplaceable part of the Cornell AAP experience."

An avid supporter of both the college and university, Gensler was a member and member emeritus of the AAP Advisory Council, a member of the Cornell Buildings and Properties Committee of the Cornell Board of trustees from 1998-2004, and was named a lifetime member of the Cornell University Council in 2002 after many years of service. He was also named Cornell Entrepreneur of the Year in 1995 and received a Frank H.T. Rhodes Exemplary Alumni Service Award, the highest award for alumni service.

M. Arthur "Art" Gensler Jr. was predeceased by his wife of nearly 60 years, Drucilla "Drue" Cortell Gensler. He is survived by his four sons and their families: David and his children (Aaron, Thisbe, Dunia, and Pales) with Alisoun; Robert and his wife Gillian; Douglas and his wife Kinzie and their children (Cortie, Cailin, and Mamie); and Kenneth and his children (Morgan, Jake, and Sam) with Jennifer and their grandchild Charlotte (Art's great-grandchild).

Douglas Gensler graduated from AAP in 1990 and heads the Gensler office in Boston. Other members of his family who received degrees from AAP include Aaron Gensler (M.Arch. '14), Douglas "Cortie" Gensler (B.S. URS '20), and Jacob Gensler (B. Arch. '20).

Cornell AAP extends condolences to the Gensler family, and gratitude for their and Gensler's enduring generosity and commitment to the college.

AAP Communications

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