Art Gensler, the pioneering American architect who founded the world’s largest architectural firm and played a key role in the iconic look of Apple Stores, died Monday at the age of 85.
To try and distill Gensler’s career into “he helped create the Apple Store” is doing him a big disservice. His firm, founded in 1965, operates in 50 countries and produces an annual revenue of $1.5 billion. Nonetheless, for Apple fans, his work on Apple Stores is one of his many indelible contributions.
And he once got fired by Steve Jobs for it.
Creating the Apple Store
As reported in a 2018 article for the Nob Hill Gazette, Gensler met Jobs in the late 1970s at a design conference in Monterey, California. Gensler spoke about interiors, and the Apple co-founder gave a talk on the future of personal computing. Jobs showed Gensler the Apple II with VisiCalc, and the architect signed on to design Apple’s headquarters.
“Art was a very gifted architect who seemed to know exactly what his client needed and wanted,” Del Yocam, Apple’s first COO, told Cult of Mac. “He was also an unbelievably smart businessman.”
When Jobs returned to Cupertino in 1997, he had the idea of building retail stores dedicated to Apple products. The Gensler firm designed the first 100 Apple Stores, which began opening their doors in 2001. This laid the groundwork for the design aesthetics of the stores, which remain today.
Macworld said visitors to the first Apple Store — which opened May 19, 2001, in McLean, Virginia — walked into a “spotless, well-lit space decorated with light wood, brushed steel, and crystal white glass. Apple had laid out its products — colorful, translucent iMacs and Power Macs among them — on wall-length, bar-height tables and white, kidney-shaped platforms throughout the store. Their locations were carefully planned, as Apple had invisibly divided the space into sections via understated signs hanging overhead.”
A few years later, Apple’s first bespoke retail outlet in Europe opened on London’s Regent Street. Dscene described the Gensler-designed store like this:
For Apple’s first European flagship store, Gensler enhanced an interactive environment design that reinforces this lifestyle-driven brand. A structural glass staircase and bridge connect the ground floor where Apple’s products are featured to the second-floor Genius Bar offering customer support. The second level also features a studio where customers interface with Apple’s creative staff, an auditorium for presentations, and a children’s alcove. Gensler’s custom-designed “light ceiling” creates a sense of daylight through its tilted panes of hand etched semi-reflective glass.
That store opened in 2004. And yet the description will sound familiar to anybody who ever stepped foot in one of Apple’s glistening retail establishments. (Apple redesigned its Regent Store in 2016.)
Steve Jobs fires architect Art Gensler
The relationship between architect and Jobs reportedly went south (for a time) after Microsoft hired Gensler’s agency to design some of its stores.
“Steve heard, got me on the phone and said, ‘This is Steve Jobs. You’re fired,’” Gensler told the Nob Hill Gazette. “And Steve was right and we were wrong.”
Gensler described Jobs as the “smartest person I ever met: a demanding perfectionist and true visionary.”
Apple rehired the Gensler agency after Jobs’ death. (In addition to Gensler, other architectural firms who have worked on the Apple Store include Bohlin Cywinski Jackson and Foster + Partners.)
Gensler’s other contributions to the world of tech include Silicon Valley projects like the Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, the Airbnb offices in San Francisco and a renovation of the Adobe campus in San Jose.
Gensler died early Monday at his home in Mill Valley, California, after battling lung disease for more than a year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle..