At the helm of the world’s largest architecture firm sits co-CEO Diane Hoskins.
A hands-on leader, Hoskins oversees Gensler’s global platform and its day-to-day operations, some 5,000+ people networked across 45 offices, serving clients in 120+ countries. She is also the founder of Gensler Research, which is dedicated to cutting-edge surveys into how design innovation makes cities more livable, work smarter and leisure more engaging. If you look up at an urban skyline, chances are she’s helped to craft it. More importantly, she working to craft structures for our future longevity, taking everything into consideration in her work from climate change to purpose-driven design.
We caught up with Hoskins for a quick, yet candid conversation about her career journey, her rarely-talked-about family background, design inspirations, and the advice she’d give aspiring architects.
Glassdoor: What was the first moment when you thought you could be an architect? Tell us the story.
Diane Hoskins: My interest in architecture began very early in life. Growing up in Chicago, the city skyline of tall buildings made an impression on me. I used to spend hours creating model buildings out of LEGO blocks and would dream about bringing beautiful and inspiring things to life. By the time I was nine years old, I already knew that I wanted to be an architect.
Glassdoor: What was your first job in the field?
Diane Hoskins: I started my first job in architecture at SOM in Chicago. As a large commercial architectural practice, it was a vibrant and exciting place to start my career. Most of my friends who worked in small firms were working on small projects. At SOM, I was assigned to a team to design a 30story office building in New York! I considered myself very lucky because I was able to work on everything from the early concept design all the way through construction documents. It was a great experience.
Glassdoor: How would you describe your training? Did it prepare you or simply give you a liberal arts backdrop that has informed your design?
Diane Hoskins: I did my architectural training at MIT which gave me a fantastic broad scientific and mathematical education along with my architecture major. The MIT School of Architecture at that time was led by N. John Habraken, a Dutch architect and theorist in the same vein as Herman Hertzberger. Their dominant theoretical framework in the school was the idea of people-centric design and adaptability. This has always stuck with me and is the basis of how I think about architecture. The users and their experience is the driver and design needs to be adaptable over time. It’s an “inside out” approach.
While at MIT, I also took a class at the Sloan School of Business on managerial psychology, course 15.301. It was during this class that I started to think more about how architecture connects to organizational behavior. Specifically, the connection between how we might design an office space and how it could have an impact on people. I consider that class the foundation of my interest in how workplace design affects performance of people and organizations. At Gensler, we have advanced this concept into 10years of research studies and have developed the WPI (Workplace Performance Index), a web-based tool that demonstrates the correlations between workplace design and organizational performance.
Glassdoor: What is your ethnic background, and how does it inform your work?
Diane Hoskins: I have a background that I share with probably only 5% of Americans…. I am both black and white. My mother’s family background is Danish and my father is African American. While I don’t perceive that my ethnicity has informed my thinking as an architect, it has certainly informed my leadership style. I define myself as a naturally inclusive leader and I believe this is a distinct advantage because I see potential in every person that I work with. I have seen repeatedly that great ideas can come from anyone. Many leaders try to surround themselves with versions of themselves. They limit the voices that they listen to. I am the opposite, I seek and relish diversity. Growing up, my family life was generationally diverse; three generations lived together in our home. We had diverse ethnicity and nationality; my parents were a “mixed marriage” and my grandfather grew up in Copenhagen. And everyone in our family had diverse gifts in music, art, writing, sports, science and technology; each with incredible individual drive. No two people were alike in a family of 8 around the dinner table every night. What I grew up thinking was normal, I now know was an incredibly valuable and special experience of immersive diversity that has given me unique perspectives and versatility of thought.
Glassdoor: Finish this sentence: “When a young person tells me that they want to become an architect, I tell them…”
Diane Hoskins: I tell them to follow their interests to the fullest and be open to new interests. I look at my early career and I bounced around between architecture, interior design and real estate. In addition, I worked in three different cities in five years. I was very restless, but it helped me find what I was looking for. I think it’s important to get a good educational background and then really push yourself and don’t settle for anything other than what stimulates you and challenges you every day. No coasting!
Glassdoor: What has been your most favorite design or hallmark project?
Diane Hoskins: There are so many projects that I was involved with along my career that were turning points or learning points. As I mentioned earlier, the first building I worked on, 875 3rd Avenue in NY, was an amazing learning opportunity. I not only learned how to design a major building, but I grew through the project to a team leader role by the end of the project. In Los Angeles, I was able to work with Amtrak on a new building and call center that helped me to push the innovation and groundbreaking ideas in that typology. In Baltimore, the historic restoration/renovation of the 150yearold Bagby Building was an opportunity to lead an extremely complex project which began the transformation of the East Inner Harbor. And then winning the Armstrong headquarters project in Pennsylvania. It was an extraordinary design opportunity and an opportunity to work with a client to reimagine their midcentury campus for the future. I have found over and over that every project is an opportunity to impact people and communities in a positive way. This is why I love design and architecture.
Glassdoor: One or two can’t live without items?
Diane Hoskins: My iPhone and my coffee (a crafted pour over, of course)!
Glassdoor: Why did you choose Gensler at this point in your career?
Diane Hoskins: I have been at Gensler for over 20 years. I bounced around quite a bit during the early stages of my career but when the opportunity to take a leadership role at Gensler presented itself, I knew this was the right opportunity for me at the right time. Gensler is an amazing organization with an entrepreneurial culture that is a platform for individual success and growth. At the same time, Gensler has a “one firm firm” culture in which people share and collaborate effortlessly across the global array of offices. In addition, we have grown into an extraordinarily diverse array of practice expertise which allows us to bring unique combinations to our projects and truly innovate through diversity. It’s such an energizing environment that personally, I am truly growing and stretching every day…even as one of the CEOs! I believe Gensler is an amazing place for professionals in architecture and design at any stage in their career. As co-CEO with an amazing partner, Andy Cohen, we are tremendously excited about the future ahead. Our vision is to create a better world through the power of design in everything we do. We are committed to enriching the lives of people through our projects and enriching the lives of every person at Gensler by creating a great experience and great place to work.
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