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September 18, 2016

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Towering achievement earns Magnolia Awards

ART Gensler and Dan Winey, the founder and chief operating officer respectively of world-leading architectural firm Gensler, were among 50 individuals presented with the Magnolia Silver Award last week, a prize given annually by the city government to foreigners who make a significant contribution to Shanghai’s development.

Gensler and Winey were recognized for their firm’s design of the city’s newest landmark, the Shanghai Tower.

“This is the most important award I’ve ever received,” said Winey who founded Gensler’s Shanghai office in 2001. “It represents the recognition to our efforts and contributions to the city over the last 15 years.”

Gensler, who was born in New York in 1935, started the firm with four drafting tables in an office in San Francisco in 1965. Today, it is one of the largest firms of its kind, with 46 offices in 14 countries.

The winner of numerous accolades, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Design Futures Council earlier this year, Gensler considers the city’s Magnolia Award a great honor. “I’m very proud of my relationship with Shanghai and the fact that our firm has done so many wonderful buildings, such as the Shanghai Tower,” he said.

The tall and energetic 81-year-old became visibly excited whenever conversation turned to the Shanghai Tower, a project he described as a major global landmark as well as a favorite among the thousands of structures his firm has designed.

The 632-meter Shanghai Tower, which towers above the city’s Lujiazui financial district, is second in height only to the 829.8-meter Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The tower held a soft opening in April after construction finished, and is scheduled to open for business soon.

“I think it is the most important building in the world, a symbol of Shanghai and China,” Gensler said. Built at a cost of 15 billion yuan (US$2.24 billion), the super-skyscraper features a unique twisted shape, double curtain-wall skins and more than 20 gardens which provide significant green coverage throughout the building.

Gensler said the building raises the standard for world-class skyscrapers, while also lifting his own firm to new heights.

The firm now designs about 7,500 projects each year for over 2,200 clients. Notable projects include the newly-opened Terminal 3 at San Francisco International Airport as well as 100 Apple retail stores around the world.

‘Part of the community’

When Gensler stood atop the firm-designed Shanghai Trust’s headquarters on the Bund to look at the Shanghai Tower across the Huangpu River early this year, he nearly burst into tears.

“I realized that time that we have finally made it and this is a legacy to me,” he said.

To him, the most unique features of the building include “refuge levels” built every 12 to 15 floors to enhance evacuation, as well as sky gardens where people can rest and have lunch without leaving the building.

Gensler led his firm to win the bid to design the tower in 2007. He then sent his old friend and colleague Winey to oversee the project.

Since then, Winey spent most of his time in the city leading the design team and guiding construction. This also meant implementing practices and concepts for safety and vertical transportation on a scale never before seen in China.

“When my great grandchildren want to see what I have done a century later, they will see the Shanghai Tower,” Winey said.

Winey said the project changed him personally, as it gave him the chance to work with people from all over the world, such as young designers from China, Spain and Italy.

Gensler’s major strategy for China was to hire and develop local professionals, such as Xia Jun, the tower’s chief designer and a native of Shanghai. Now, about 75 percent of Gensler’s staff in the city are Chinese.

“We tried to make the project be appropriate to the local community and be part of the community. It is not our building, but it belongs to the community,” Gensler said.

Gensler firstly came to Shanghai in 1983 as a delegate with the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. During that visit, he saw the city as a potential market for his firm. He and Winey initially opened an office in Hong Kong, but selected Shanghai for the firm’s regional headquarters in 2001. This move made it one of the first architecture companies to open a wholly foreign-owned enterprise in the city.

The venture started in a hotel room at the Portman Ritz Carlton on Nanjing Road West with only two staff before relocating to a proper office. Today, Gensler’s Shanghai branch has over 180 architects, who are designing projects covering about 10 million square-meters across the country.

Thanks to the Shanghai Tower project, Gensler has won projects in Thailand, Singapore and India, Winey said. Of course, the company continues to expand in China as well, thanks in part skyline-defining structure.

Gensler stepped down as chairman in 2010 but still serves as a consultant. He described himself as a “part time employee of the company” that bears his name.

“I think we have a bright future to continue being a global-leading design firm,” Gensler said. “I believe there is more in common between China and the US, and we need to work together to make the world a better place.”


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