Gensler family endows, names Cornell AAP NYC program
By Joe Wilensky
A $10 million gift to the College of Architecture, Art and Planning has been given to the college by a multi-generational Cornellian family.
The gift, from M. Arthur Gensler, B.Arch. ’58, and his family, will sustain AAP’s thriving New York City-based program in perpetuity by naming the Gensler Family AAP NYC Center. The funding – which includes $9 million for the endowment and $1 million for current-use funds – will support programming and personnel, including the Gensler Family Sesquicentennial Executive Director position, currently held by Bob Balder ’89.
Gensler has been a longtime supporter of the college, funding visiting faculty appointments and scholarships, among other programs. Gensler and his family helped create and have supported the AAP NYC program since its inception.
The AAP NYC program has grown from a pilot program to an essential component of AAP’s academic offerings, strengthening student recruitment by complementing the traditional Ithaca-centered experience with an immersive semester in the urban environment of New York City.
“Art Gensler’s commitment to the college and the architecture profession, like the man himself, is larger than life,” said J. Meejin Yoon, B.Arch. ’95, the Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of AAP. “His vision for the discipline and the field has been and continues to be radically inclusive, expansive and open. He is a constant reminder that the built environment not only embodies values but creates value – value to communities, cities and society.”
“Among the most prolific architects and leaders of the profession, his passion and recognition of the responsibility architects and designers bear in building the future is felt at every scale,” Yoon said. “The Gensler Family gift is an unparalleled endowment for our college and promises to expand the opportunities afforded AAP students, grounding their education in experiences that enable them to make a deep and lasting impact on the world.”
“Art Gensler’s vision helped create the AAP NYC program, and this landmark gift ensures that the program, which has been a cornerstone of the educational experience of so many of our students, will continue to flourish,” Cornell President Martha E. Pollack said. “This endowment from Art and his family will further deepen connections and collaborations between our rural and urban campuses, and create invaluable experiential opportunities for generations of future Cornellians.”
Center was a shared vision
AAP’s program in New York City was established in 2006 as a shared vision between Gensler and then-dean Mohsen Mostafavi, and was expanded during the tenure of former dean Kent Kleinman. It includes undergraduate and graduate student semesters, a full roster of classes and access to internships. The program benefits from the city’s unique resources and from AAP’s extensive alumni network of noted professionals, who frequently teach and serve as guest critics and mentors.
In 2015, AAP NYC moved to its current home at 26 Broadway, the city-designated landmark Standard Oil building. Designed pro bono by a team from Gensler’s firm, the facility occupies the entire 20th floor of the building and has been customized to meet a full range of programming needs for all three departments of AAP with gallery space, a multi-use room for lectures and public events, and ample studio and classroom areas.
“When I graduated from Cornell in 1958, I knew I had received a wonderful architectural education. I certainly couldn’t have imagined then how meaningful and important it would be to expand the educational offering to include off campus programs,” Gensler said. “After attending the opening of AAP’s Rome program, I was inspired by the unique experiences that program offered students and began to work with the dean to develop the AAP NYC program to provide similar unique experiences to future AAP students. These two programs have become key parts of any Cornell AAP educational experience.”
Study at AAP NYC is an option for bachelor of architecture, bachelor of fine arts, master of regional planning and master of landscape students, and is mandatory for professional master of architecture and post-professional master of science in advanced architectural design students. About 100-120 students attend each year from all three AAP departments and there are partnerships with other Cornell units, from Cornell Tech to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
A family of Cornellians
Gensler is widely credited with elevating and expanding the practice of architecture and interior design. In 1965, he founded the San Francisco-based Gensler, a multidisciplinary design practice that has organically grown into a global firm with offices in 50 cities and more than 5,000 teammates. In 2000, Gensler was named the American Institute of Architects’ Architectural Firm of the Year, the institute’s highest honor to a collaborative practice.
Gensler is an emeritus member of AAP’s advisory council, served as a non-trustee member of Cornell’s Buildings and Properties Committee for many years and was an active Cornell University Council member. He was named Cornell Entrepreneur of the Year in 1995. In addition to supporting the Gensler Sesquicentennial Executive Director for AAP NYC, he has supported the Gensler Visiting Critic, the Gensler Visiting Lecturer of Professional Practice, the Gensler Scholarship and AAP’s annual fund.
Gensler’s late wife, Drucilla “Drue” Gensler, who died in 2017, played an integral role in the establishment of Gensler, acting as business manager and in other capacities. She also worked at Cornell as an assistant to Urie Bronfenbrenner in the Department of Child Development and Family Relationships in the College of Human Ecology.
“Our family is honored to have the New York City program named the Gensler Family AAP NYC Center,” Gensler said, noting that he is extremely proud of his multigenerational family of AAP Cornellians, which includes himself; his son Douglas Gensler ’90, B.Arch. ’91; and grandchildren Aaron Gensler, M.Arch. ’14; Jacob Gensler, B.Arch. ’20; Douglas “Cortie” Gensler, B.S. URS ’20 and Dunia Gensler, who attended AAP for two years before finishing her education in Europe.
“New York City is one of the great epicenters for design in the world,” Douglas Gensler said. “Offering Cornell AAP students the chance to immerse themselves in this environment is an extraordinary and important complement to the experience they will get in Ithaca. We are excited to be able to continue supporting the college and establish a long-term funding source to ensure that this experience will become a permanent part of the college’s offerings.”