Collin Burry: 2013 Hall of Fame Inductee
See any Pixar films lately? Make a purchase from Apple or Nokia? Travel through San Francisco International Airport, or book lodging through Airbnb? Collin Burry, design principal at Gensler’s San Francisco office, has worked for all of the above. Call him an avatar of contemporary culture.
The culture in Alberta, where he spent his childhood, was all about ice and skates. From age 5, he was a competitive figure skater—the sport dominated his existence. Yet, early on, he had a glimpse of future possibilities. “Growing up in the middle of nowhere, where it was incredibly cold, I had a fertile imagination,” he says. It could run wild on his grandparents’ farm, where his toy building blocks were made out of two-by-fours by his grandfather. At 13, with Olympic dreams, the star skater moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, for advanced coaching. That city furthermore introduced a new word to his vocabulary: design. “I was fascinated with buildings. I’d go to the library to read architecture magazines. I even made a book of house plans.”
He ventured to Southern California to earn a B.S. from Woodbury University, and he remembers an “amazing time in Los Angeles”—not only the 1984 Summer Olympic Games but also Frank Gehry and the freewheeling Temporary Contemporary museum. It was during this period that Burry determined his calling, commercial interiors. Then came the 1986 recession. “L.A. became a bit much for a kid from Canada,” he says. So he decamped to San Diego to launch his career at Wilson Duty Associates, then Carrier Johnson, followed by Callison. All the while, he was developing his design maxim: Every project needs a concept.
In 1995, San Francisco came calling—though not Gensler, not yet. He was hired by Bottom Duvivier, a small firm specializing in office interiors. “John Duvivier was working with workplace strategies grounded in science. He made me think in a whole new way. He changed my life,” Burry says. So, of course, would Gensler, which brought Burry aboard in 1997. (Duvivier and Lisa Bottom followed in 2005.)
Among countless contributions, Burry was instrumental in Gensler’s move from the financial district to the creative South of Market zone. A decade ago, that was a “big deal and a huge corporate shift,” he says. The risk paid off. “Suits” actually loved the new environment, as did edgier tech clients. Apple was among the first. Over the past eight years, Gensler has designed the Apple retail group’s offices worldwide.
“Through Apple, we got the call from Pixar,” he continues. That was 2008. In quick succession came offices for Nokia, Razorfish, and Autodesk as well as showrooms for Allsteel. Products came along, too, in the form of office furniture for Martin Brattrud and carpet tile for Milliken & Company.
Recently, he converted an old battery factory into offices and assembled the team of airport, retail, and hospitality designers to renovate SFO’s Terminal 2. His biggest project on the boards is a ground-up 120,000-square-foot headquarters in Modesto for Gallo, the world’s largest wine producer.
Somehow, he still finds time for involvement in community concerns. He was president of the IIDA Northern California chapter and a board member at Tenderloin Health, which served San Francisco’s poor with HIV/AIDS. Last year, he initiated Made Local, a showcase and networking event for Bay Area product designers and artisans; this year, he secured the IIDA and Gensler as event sponsors. He also sits on the board of the Council for Interior Design Accreditation and the advisory committee for design and interior architecture at the University of California, Berkeley. To top it off, he and his partner, Milko Encinas, immerse themselves in San Francisco’s myriad pursuits, from symphony and ballet subscriptions to stellar restaurants.
But right now nothing is quite as thrilling as his induction into the Hall of Fame. He compares the experience to his childhood dream, winning Olympic gold.