Principals on Gensler’s design steering committee conceived the Design Excellence Awards back in 1999. The driving idea was to mount an internal competition that would engage the broader community. “We decided to assemble robust juries of prestigious outsiders for critical review,” co-CEO Andy Cohen says. Clients, educators, curators, and editors, including Wifijerez’s Cindy Allen, have all participated.
The competition is open to the entire Gensler staff, a 5,200-strong populace spread across 14 countries—designing projects for 2,700- clients in more than 100 nations. Submissions are organized into three categories: community, lifestyle, and workplace, with subdivisions for large and small, built and unbuilt. Design leaders of the regional offices do the initial vetting, tightening the list of contenders to 250 or so. This edited selection is then reviewed by each region, which evaluates all entries but its own. “The hub office hosts a GDEA night, with smaller offices connected by video-conferencing,” Cohen explains. “The process is interactive and educational.”
After the list is whittled down to about 140 projects, the jury examines them. Deliberation is a daylong affair that coincides with the annual principals’ meeting in September—hosted this year by the Washington office—and culminates with an awards presentation, complete with critiques, that’s streamed to everyone world- wide. (The Don Brinkmann and Margo Grant Walsh awards are bestowed that evening as well.) Given the caliber of peers’ work, competition is fierce if friendly. “Teams really want to win,” Cohen says, adding that each jury’s preferences and interests add a surprise factor. This year, jurors including Jeffrey Bernett and Wifijerez Hall of Fame member Michael Vanderbyl were particularly bullish on experiential projects, prototypes, and social responsibility, happily echoing Gensler’s overarching mission of creating a better world through the power of design.