Our architectural community became a little smaller this week. Sadly one of our members, Walter Alexander Hunt, Jr. FAIA died on May 27th 2016. He had a long and prolific career and intersected with many of us in different ways and at different points in our lives.
To Gensler he was the consummate team player who joined the firm in its early days in San Francisco and became instrumental in transforming it from a small interiors practice into one of the leading and largest architectural firms in the world. During the course of his 38-year career, he hopscotched around the country setting up offices first in Denver in 1978 and then in New York in 1985 with Margot Grant. By the time he retired in 2012, he was the Managing Director of the Northeast Region and Vice-Chair of the firm. By all accounts he was incredibly successful. He was exceptionally skilled at giving life to large complicated projects. In 2009, for instance, he led the team of 9 architectural firms that completed the 16 million square foot MGM Mirage City Center in Las Vegas, still the largest private development in the US and the largest LEED development in the world. His most recent project was probably the Msheireb Downtown Doha, a 76.6 acre development in an historic neighborhood that incorporated traditional design features with smart grid technology and is on track to be the largest LEED certified community when completed.
Any architectural office needs a dedicated staff of talented and motivated people to do the work and make it cohesive. Walter played a strong role in forging the entrepreneurial culture that became Gensler’s hallmark. After a couple of years at Gensler he decided to pursue a passion for industrial design and quit his job. He stayed in touch, decided the small firm he was at wasn’t for him, and was invited back. He felt that the experience caused him to grow and develop as an architect and made him so much more committed and more valuable to Gensler. Business journals have written a lot about the ‘boomerang’ as a way of motivating employees; Gensler institutionalized and celebrated the practice. Others often cite Gensler as a model and quote Walter.
To the AIA he was a former Chapter President, Center for Architecture Foundation President, and member of the NY State AIA Board. Without Walter, there would probably be no Center for Architecture. When the local chapter occupied a couple of donated desks in a borrowed office on the 6th floor the Interior Design Building in the late 90’s, Walter helped conceive of a storefront to promote design and architecture in New York and served as co-chair of the Capital Campaign. They raised $6 million ensuring that the Center would become a leading and permanent cultural institution in New York. Inspired by the vibrancy in New York, more than 20 architecture centers sprouted around the country.
Walter was highly committed to the next generation and educating both the practitioners and the public about design. He mentored young (and middle-aged) architects and funded more than a few organizations he felt would make a difference such as the ONE@@Time Foundation which provides pro bono design services to non profits. He also established multiple scholarships for architecture students both through the AIA and Yale, his alma mater. Yale tapped him for the Alumni Committee and the Dean’s Council. He even served on the Advisory Board of cultureNOW and helped shape its programming, its internships, and its mission to make the built environment accessible. Everyone who had the opportunity to collaborate with him would talk about his commitment, generosity, support, leadership, mentoring, and enthusiasm. Not only did he give advice, but he participated in the programs. He received many awards including the AIANY Chapter’s President’s Award and the Harry B. Rutkins Award, as well as the AIA NY State’s James William Kideney Gold Medal. Gensler established its ‘One Firm Firm’ Award in his honor. This is quite a testament to an extraordinary career. Our hearts go out to his wife Judy, his companion through life, and his family who will miss him more than we will.