This Q&A is part of a series of interviews with Gensler architects, designers, and others in the firm about their career journey, and the impact that design and architecture can have on our communities and the human experience. Here, we sit down with Joseph Joseph, Gensler’s Global Director of Design Technology:
How does your identity and experience inform the work that you do?
My parents are minority Catholics from a small town in the south of Iraq and I was blessed to move with them to Abu Dhabi at one years old. I got to see the United Arab Emirates transform from a desert, really, to a concrete jungle.
Being in a country that developed in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, before I went to college, really afforded me to be in a melting pot of different ethnic backgrounds, religions, and diverse backgrounds. As an Arab American, I grew up with a huge passion for heading West to come to the land of opportunity.
Coming here, I feel like I have become very American, but I feel proud that I’ve held onto the Middle Eastern identity that makes me unique as a leader. I am empathetic to other different cultures, and I like to bring that into my leadership style and the kind of work I do.
What was an early experience that influenced your outlook on architecture and design?
Watching my mother sacrifice and work very hard became my example, my role model of leadership that influenced the fact that I wanted to lead in the world rather than follow. At a very young age, I made the decision that I wanted to make an impact and a difference.
I had such a huge passion for innovation, and particularly digital, and I followed Steve Jobs and Bill Gates at a young age and anytime someone asked me what I wanted to do, I said I want to be a technologist. I ended up studying architecture. Seeing Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and the UAE evolve from a desert to an incredible concrete jungle, it took a lot of innovation, architecture, and engineering to make that happen, and it really influenced me.
After architecture school, I decided to dedicate my career to digital innovation. I had a feeling that digital would eventually take over in the world in a very big way. I saw this opportunity to bring diverse people, technology, and innovation together to create culture. You can’t ignite innovation through serendipity if you’re all alike. You have to bring different people together.
How can architecture and design make spaces that are inclusive for everyone?
You cannot create an inclusive environment unless you are creating it in an inclusive environment. You cannot design for a diverse world if you aren’t in a diverse culture. You have to be open to different perspectives. This is why I love the notion that we’re designing with communities, not for those communities.
How do the diverse backgrounds and experiences of Gensler employees make us a better design firm?
In my first year at Gensler, I visited almost 22 offices throughout the world. Every office was uniquely its city and culturally Gensler. When I went to Shanghai, they were uniquely Chinese, but culturally Gensler. When I went to London, they were uniquely European and British, but culturally Gensler. If you look at the co-leadership model that happens in almost everything we do, it’s a consortium made of a broad spectrum of diverse cultures, backgrounds, religions, and perspectives.
What else inspires you?
Our craft, this craft of design, wakes me up every morning. It’s really not the technology or the innovation; it’s actually being able to contribute. To me, what makes this firm special is that it’s focused on the human experience. It’s focused on climate change. It’s focused on diversity, and it leverages our one-firm firm culture to create the velocity to put a ding into the universe in a way that creates a better life for generations to come.
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