January 1, 2013

10 Qs with… Nila Leiserowitz of Gensler

It’s no small task to oversee the goings-on of 300 employees throughout four Midwestern offices of renowned design firm


, or to spearhead the company’s endeavors in the health and wellness sector. Yet Nila Leiserowitz,




—a seventeen-year Gensler employee and accomplished designer for three and a half decades—handles the responsibilities in stride, using passion as her barometer and her firm’s stellar roster of talent to execute and exceed clients’ needs.

ID: What’s keeping you and your team and busy at the moment?


We realize we have a great opportunity to influence healthcare, and are actively involved in a number of key projects that aim to provide really unique experiences. We’re seeing a huge shift in this world… not only around the economics of healthcare but on the preventative care side. Gensler has embraced wellness and wellbeing in all environments, including more than just healthcare, and we consider it a crucial part of our education, headquarters, retail, and hospitality practices.

ID: What is Gensler’s philosophy on the health and wellness sector?


In looking at urban communities—the planning and designing of communities as well as the various retail issues that support an urban lifestyle—we see that the common theme is wellness. We’ve become very focused on a “lifestyle of wellbeing,” and constantly ask how we can create new opportunities for our clients.

I think of

New Balance

shoes and workout clothes, how much focus they’ve put into planning and design. There’s


, which has introduced clinics in store to allow consumers a choice about where they receive care. In years past, healthcare was focused on creating buildings and spaces based on the standard delivery of care, a place people had to go. Now the patient is the consumer, with access to a lot more information to help them make intelligent choices about what care they receive, as well as where they’d like their care to come from.

ID: What is the key to bringing out the best in your team at Gensler?


What’s really important to me—and to Gensler—is that we empower people to take risk, and ask them to be accountable. Accountability will always influence an end-product. After thirty years of expertise, it’s easy to put myself on top, but I think it’s important to let others to test their capabilities. The leader’s job is to remove roadblocks, and the sign of a good leader is when you organize a team and then step aside.


Do you feel optimistic about the state of the industry now, following the recession that impacted the design world so profoundly?


The industry truly suffered, and some firms are still feeling it. But through the Gensler lens, we’re very positive. We just came off a great year, seeing people reinvesting in their communities and retail trying to reinvent itself. While a lot of jobs have been shipped overseas to China, we’ve seen manufacturing and consumer companies realize that its cheaper to produce product in the US. There’s also a lot of conversation about what a “brand” is, and as a firm we’re optimistic about our role in all of this. In terms of health and wellness, there’s a lot of work out there.

ID: How savvy are your clients these days, versus in years past?


Clients are more sophisticated and informed than ever before, be it in the health and wellness world or anywhere else. More often than not, that’s a good thing. Considering the recession and everything that’s happened in the world, clients are very cost conscious, but that doesn’t meant they’re cheap. Rather, they’re very value-driven, and it’s our job to demonstrate value. In order to drive success to our business, our approach has to be about value, metrics, and people.

ID: How does Gensler encourage new talent to continue to uphold its reputation?


Mentoring is a huge focus for the firm, and happens at all levels… We always try to combine youth and experience on our projects. Personally, I feel that if you don’t look at up-and-coming talent, you’re missing opportunities. That’s where the future is.

ID: What do you see as a designer or architect’s role—and responsibility—within our culture?


The interior designer has a responsibility to create communities, whether in the context of a city or a work environment. We have a responsibility to create places for people to live, work, and play. The world we live in is constantly changing, so we must evolve our thinking to create places that are relevant.

ID: What’s your take on sustainability—not just materials, but in terms of actual design?


If we’re designing spaces that are authentic to the client’s culture and organization, they’re timeless and thus sustainable.

ID: You were in integral in forming gServe, Gensler’s community service and outreach program. What does this initiative mean to you?


I’ve always been very passionate about giving back to the community, and feel it’s important that you do that with any community you live in. Gensler has become very committed, not only to volunteering and community outreach, but to actually redesigning cities. Members of the firm were already giving a wonderful amount of time to a host of causes, so with gServe we simply got organized, and this has made our efforts really effective. We’ve partnered with other organizations to do some great things… We were able to build a grade school in Haiti after the hurricane. In Los Angeles, we worked to advocate for the eighteen-thousand kids on the street every night without a home. In Chicago, we’ve been volunteering at an all-girls charter school. It’s exciting how the firm has organized itself to truly impact communities.

ID: You seem to have passion for so many things. What would you say are your greatest sources of inspiration?


Inspiration, for me, comes from my love of mountains, the people around me, and places that align with their purpose.

More in this series:

10 Questions With… David Howell

10 Questions With… Michael Maltzman

10 Questions With… Wendell Castle

10 Questions With… Vicente Wolf

10 Questions With… Tom Phifer

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