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Shaping our cities: David Calkins

Having moved to Singapore from Houston almost two years ago to take on the role of Asia Pacific and Middle East Regional Managing Principal of Gensler, David Calkins thrives on Asia’s energy and development. “The booming economy and incredible growth that we’re seeing is amazing,” he enthuses.


“The region I oversee spans across Tokyo, Dubai, Sydney and Bangalore; it’s so diverse and rich in its cultures.” As an award-winning architect and interior designer, David seamlessly transitioned from design roles into leadership roles.

“I was fortunate,” he reflects. “I had a fairly broad experience, so while my focus was always design, I made sure to expose myself to the business aspects of the profession.

“I would say that I still am in a creative role. I work directly with clients and bring new ones into the firm. The process of business development as we engage in it is very creative. Every client has a different set of needs, so we tailor our approach to that.”

Gensler is a mission-driven firm, and it believes in making the world a better place through the power of design. “We’re deeply committed to shaping the future of the world’s cities,” David says.

“There are several key aspects that go into this, including climate change and how we can design in a highly sustainable and reliant way. We’re also looking at the future of mobility in these cities, along with technology and smart cities. Our job is to make the world a better place.”

There are approximately 50 Gensler locations around the world, which provides the firm with a unique, broad view of what its clients’ needs are. “We’re the biggest purely architectural and design firm in the world,” David boasts.

“We have more than 6,000 team members. We’re an incredibly diverse group, with a diversity of thought, which is important to us.”

Named by Glassdoor as one of the Best Places to Work for the fourth consecutive year, Gensler concentrates on cultivating a unique culture that people want to work in. “For the 22 years that I’ve been with the firm, we’ve talked about our culture,” David explains.

“It determines everything about the employee experience, so we talk about putting people first. We want everyone who comes to work for us to feel like they can stay for their entire career, no matter if they’re starting right out of school, or if they’re a senior lateral hire. There’s a path for their career development, and someone is looking out for them on that path.”

Sharing within the firm is important to Gensler. It demonstrates a level of transparency around financial issues, and its employees have a full understanding of the business. There is no ownership outside of the firm; it all belongs to the employees.

“At Gensler, everyone shares in the profits, from the top to the bottom,” David explains. “I asked Art Gensler, the Founder, about it once and he said, ‘I realised pretty early on, the more I gave the more I got.’”


David believes in open, direct and transparent communication in every aspect of the business. “It’s about showing appreciation and gratitude to people,” he says.

“The company has 10 guiding principles, and the first is, ‘It all begins and ends with our clients.’ We need to continue to express our appreciation to them, just as we’re expressing our appreciation to our employees.”

Design is constantly evolving, and David says that to better face the challenges that come with it, he’s had to accept the rate of change. “Things in our world are continuing to change, and our clients are facing different obstacles in their markets than they were 20 years ago,” he says.

“We must support them in reacting to that change. One of the big ways to do so in workplace design is realising you may have four, maybe five, generations of people in the workplace all at one time, and they all have different ideas. They have different perspectives, so we must design spaces that are adaptable over time, then help our clients adapt.

“In the APME region, we’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the biggest names in the various industries. By combining our design knowledge with their rich history and philosophies, we’ve created some of the best works, including The Parisian Macau and The Collective, a members’ only club that takes a second look at traditional elements by introducing modern alternatives.

“The key theme of The Collective is to bring people together and instil a sense of community through art, music, dining, co-working, health and wellness, and connecting with nature. It was also designed with guest experience design in mind. Today, technology is an important aspect to consider when designing projects – from mobile check-ins to apps that allow guests to control room settings, these help to create a better and unique experience.”

Gensler uses technology to help solve its design problems. There’s a group under the firm called G Labs that focuses on advancing design technology. “We have a team in Los Angeles and our region that are emphasising innovation,” David says.

“In Asia, the team is writing programs around parametric design. We are automating the design process. It’s all about process innovation and looking into the future.

“Another key success factor is our data-driven insights. With access to our Gensler Research Institute, we are able to predict upcoming trends based on data and incorporate this into our design. This has allowed us to be one step ahead when providing counsel to our clients, extending our analysis, insights and additional perspective into the original brief.”

Gensler focuses on designing sustainably, by using fewer resources that do less or no harm to the environment. “Progressing into the future, our goal is to design net-zero energy buildings and explore ways to design buildings that will improve the environment,” David says.

David feels fortunate to be a part of the firm and has contributed to its growth over the two decades he’s worked there. “Gensler is an amazing firm,” he states.

“Gensler has grown consistently through its entire history, since 1965. There have been economic cycles up and down, but it’s been successful, and it will continue to be. We’re going to continue to grow, and we’ll thrive going forward as we continue to shape the future of cities.”

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