Building anew - Issue 143 - Magazine | Monocle

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Diane Hoskins has been co-ceo at Gensler for more than 15 years. The firm she jointly oversees is the largest architecture and design company in the world with more than 5,000 employees and 50 global offices from Bogotá to Beijing. It has come a long way from the early days of what Hoskins calls “a family-owned start-up”, established by Art Gensler in San Francisco in 1965. Despite the company’s size – and leading the pack in global revenues, which topped $1.5bn (€1.2bn) in 2020, up 12 per cent on the previous year – Hoskins says that she doesn’t see Gensler as a corporation. The firm shuns top-heavy hierarchies for a more horizontal management approach known as the “constellation of stars”, something that Hoskins says is Gensler’s “secret sauce”.


Alongside airports and stadia, Gensler has made a name for itself in office interiors, working with brands from Reebok to Apple. While Hoskins, a trained architect who studied at mit, might be working from home in Maryland when she speaks to monocle (she is normally based in its Washington office), she sees an opportunity for her firm – both economically and in terms of influencing a wider conversation – rethinking the workspace in light of the pandemic. For her, nothing beats the creativity of being in the same room. “For our company, we are looking forward to coming back together,” she says. 

“We put a goal out there that, by 2030, all of Gensler’s work will be net zero. And I don’t think there’s another firm out there, of any scale, which has even said that”

Why does Gensler have co-CEOs?
Andy [Cohen] and I have been co-ceos for 16 years; it’s not a short-lived thing. We’ve built a really strong, collaborative leadership approach. Architecture is not a solo profession; it’s about collaboration, it’s about ideas and it’s about creativity and innovation. Firms that focus on hierarchies and single personalities ultimately end up being less creative – it’s the idea coming from that one person and no one can challenge them.

Gensler is the world’s largest design and architecture firm. Does that come with a responsibility to act in a certain way?
We take our role of leadership seriously. Three years ago we put a goal out there that, by 2030, all of Gensler’s work will be net zero. And I don’t think there’s another firm out there, of any scale, which has even said that. You’ve got to not only educate yourself and your teams, but also your clients and your community.

As the largest firm, we have a unique position because, on behalf of our clients, we buy hundreds of millions of dollars of construction materials a year – the steel, concrete, windows, roofing, ceilings, drywall and carpets. We’re using our scale and buying power to say to the construction materials industry, “We are not going to specify your product unless it meets these carbon reduction mandates.” And we are using the power of the dollar to drive this conversation.

What is Gensler doing to ensure there is enough diversity and female representation in the workplace?
This is particularly focused right now with the violence against Asian Americans that we have seen [recently] and continues to be at the forefront for us. We believe it’s important to be a firm that works in all communities – not just for the sake of checkboxes but for the sake of really understanding how to design for the constituents of the companies we work with.

We need to be more focused on growing our black community within Gensler. There are huge efforts underway in terms of ensuring that we are the kind of place where black architects and designers want to work. We’re going to find amazing black talent – it might not be as easy in some cases [due to certain systemic barriers]. But we are going to bring these individuals into our firm. There’s also a focus on building the pipeline itself – recognising that we need to make sure that more diverse young people are coming into this profession – not just architecture [but also] interior design, graphic design, digital design. We’ve hired our first director of diversity, equity and inclusion to make sure we’re elevating that conversation.

Some are saying that the workplace is dead. How does that make you feel?
I’ve been excited about the workplace since college and we haven’t felt threatened by this at all. I used to talk about the workplace and people would just glaze over and not have any sense that it was a conversation that mattered. The end result of all this is going to be better places for people to work.

Does that ultimately mean more work for Gensler?
We are now seeing a massive increase in our consulting business, which is looking at questions such as how many people are going to come in the office on any given day. Should we have an office? Or is it a clubhouse? Is it a destination? Can people do focused work there? We’re committed to this as a research-driven practice.

As a company, we are looking forward to coming back together because we believe in collaboration and the power of the perspectives around the table. Sure we’re going to allow some flexibility, but we want our people to know where we stand, which is that every individual does count and there’s an importance to the collaborative side of what we do. The informal and the unplanned is the part that’s impossible to find [from home].

Has the pandemic affected Gensler in economic terms?
I don’t think anyone was unaffected. The advantage of our scale is that we’ve invested in great mobile technology, so the ability to keep work going was important to our clients. About 15 per cent of projects went on hold and now all of that work has come off hold. What our clients appreciate is that we didn’t stop – we were in the moment with them, we did our research and we came to the table with solutions.

Gensler’s key projects

Shanghai Tower

The tallest building in China, which corkscrews up to 632 metres, across 128 storeys. The building has an leed platinum certification from the US Green Building Council. Containing everything from offices and retail to a hotel, the tower has nonetheless struggled to achieve full occupancy.

Washington Post HQ, Washington

A head office to herald the Jeff Bezos years – the Amazon founder bought the paper for $250m in 2013. The interior references the paper’s history –  with quotes from its journalists – but also feels part tech campus, a sign of the media outlet’s future. Gensler has worked with The New York Times and Associated Press too.

Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice, New York

A two-year renovation of the 1967 masterpiece from Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates. The aim was to maintain the architectural integrity of the building while referencing its work: “We believe” appears in giant letters on a wall, part of the non-profit’s mission statement. Meeting space was doubled and an art gallery added.

UK parliament, London

A conceptual idea for a temporary UK parliament to allow for a full restoration of the Palace of Westminster. Gensler proposed a transparent and modular structure floating out onto the Thames that could apparently be completed in less than three years. And the public would get to see what politicians really get up to.

Baltimore train station

A $40m (€34m) expansion project beside the US city’s original 1911 beaux arts train hub. Construction is set to start this year and the plan will preserve the old building and create a new-build terminal and two glass towers that will contain a residential offering. Part of train operator Amtrak’s modernisation plans that include a new Acela high-speed fleet.

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