Meet Jon Gambrill from Gensler, the Architecture Firm Helping to Shape Cherry Creek West

Jon Gambrill, co-managing director of Gensler's Denver office.

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Award-winning commercial real estate firm East West Partners recently spoke with Jon Gambrill, co-managing director of Denver-based architecture firm Gensler — the firm helping to shape Cherry Creek West — to learn what sets the company apart from others and what fuels his passion for his work.

Gensler is an international architecture, design and planning firm. What makes the work that you do unique?

The biggest differentiator in what we do is the extensive research we perform globally to determine trends that are impacting all the various project types we work on and how we infuse those trends into our work.  Within each market we leverage our local knowledge to edit these global trends to ensure there is compatibility. This groundwork serves as the backbone to our annual Design Forecast which focuses on design strategies and meta trends across cities, the workplace, lifestyle and health, both locally and globally.

What elements of Cherry Creek West’s design excite you?

I love the highly pedestrian-forward focus and sustainability goals of the project. I also love thinking about the architecture in terms of how we can activate the first two to three stories of every building and infuse them with uses that help support an active ground plane. I think Cherry Creek West will have a very urban, yet open feel that will become the epicenter for Cherry Creek. As a destination that will offer office, residential, entertainment, food and much more, this will be a 24/7 community that will attract people from all over.

What is the most important lesson you have learned in your career to date?

The most important lesson I’ve learned, and practice, is to be transparent. Running the Gensler office, you need to be transparent and tell the truth. If you don’t know something, say so, and that’s OK. This carries through to my clients, too. I’ve made mistakes and in those scenarios, I apologize for the mistake and then offer solutions to address the issue.

What inspired you to become an architect?

I had no idea what I wanted to be, but I had an art teacher who told me I should be an architect. And, I knew that I was good at math and liked to draw art. The thing is, you no longer need fluency in math as an architect and you do not really draw art – you draw buildings. When I started college, I almost dropped out within the first month because I felt I was in over my head. There were first-year students who had taken elective classes like drafting and architecture in high school. It was hard, but I stuck with it! My favorite part of being an architect is seeing something get built. I’m passionate about the design and technical side of things, which led to client relations allowing me to work my way up to the leadership role I’m in now as a managing director.

What are some trends you are seeing in commercial and multifamily residential developments that are shaping the future of buildings?

More than anything, people are craving an experience when they go out. By designing places that offer a holistic experience for the user, we are providing experiences that are so good that people want to come back again and again. It is about connecting with the user from the moment they walk into a building all the way up to their home or office – from the amenities provided to the ease of moving throughout the building.

We are also noticing a new trend where buildings offer access to the outdoors, and are focused on sustainability and achieving net zero energy.

Are there any fun architecture trends that you can’t wait to see in action?

Highly functioning outdoor space that is dedicated to the user. For an office building, that could mean a balcony on every floor for tenants to have an opportunity to work outside on a patio.

One thing that came out of the pandemic is that the average user is more knowledgeable about mechanical systems as they think about the amount of fresh air and ventilation in buildings. Which leads to another trend that excites me — the growing demand for energy efficiency like net zero carbon and net zero energy, as well as more options for bringing fresh air into buildings through operable windows, even in an office building. As an architect, I’m thinking about how can we push projects further and demonstrate that we can do some things that really reset what people think is baseline.

There is also more concentration on Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) criteria by developers and businesses. Cherry Creek West’s project goals of being inclusive, walkable, pedestrian forward – as well as the focus on an active ground plan can build an environment where everyone can come together regardless of social and economic backgrounds.

Can you explain what the “first 30 feet” of a building means and share its importance?

The first 30 feet is the activation of the bottom portion of a building. In many buildings, you see this area as a parking structure or shuttered lobby. We see this zone as an opportunity to create meaningful, inviting and inclusive experiences among all users. The first 30 feet is often overlooked but can make a huge impact if designed with purpose to create engaging and energizing spaces. Examples of activation could mean a two-story retailer, outdoor patios, or tall glass transparent windows, which generate a sense of openness and implied sense of safety. Not only for those inside the building, but for those that are actively using the ground plane. This is a design solution that is not implemented very often but we hope to see this change.

How can architecture and design make spaces and buildings inclusive for everyone?

Porosity and transparency are the key drivers to creating welcoming areas. A building should be designed in a way that people can filter through spaces easily. In Cherry Creek North, there are examples of outdoor spaces that have gates, but also provide access.  Then there are other places where the portals into the central courtyards are so small, you don’t feel welcome by going through them. We’ve conducted a lot of studies of the widths and separations of buildings to ensure there’s porosity when creating communities like Cherry Creek West. While plans are conceptual at this stage for Cherry Creek West, we have some design concepts that show the lobbies as pass-throughs where you can see right through it and also easily navigate right to the retail spaces, The Green, Market Square and the central courtyards.

What is one of your favorite buildings you designed?

16 Chestnut – and I’m not just saying this because you’re East West Partners! It was by far the biggest project and I’m going to say this is the first project I won. I wasn’t in the role I am in today, and I kind of knew Chris Frampton [East West Partners] and Matt Mahoney [with BuildMark at the time], but not very well. I cold-called Matt about another project opportunity that didn’t pan out and he mentioned 16 Chestnut. I presented to Chris and Matt, which led to the competition, ultimately winning the work. It was an exhilarating accomplishment!

As a co-managing director, Jon Gambrill brings a level of leadership and guidance instrumental to the continued growth and success of Gensler’s Denver office, which will celebrate its 49th year in 2022. Recognized for his ability to challenge design teams to think outside the box, Jon is also passionate about client relationships. An award-winning architect and community leader, he is a sought-after spokesperson on the subjects of commercial building design and repositioning development. 

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