A+D Partner Spotlight: An Interview with Ashley Brewer, AIA, LEED AP
Gensler Design Director & Studio Director, Ashley Brewer, sat down for an interview with G|M to share her unique relationship with Gensler, what a dream client looks like for her, and balancing her career with four young children.
1. Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I am a Design Director and Studio Director for Gensler, Newport Beach. I have been with the firm for 13 years, but I essentially grew up with Gensler. My mom began working with Gensler when I was 5 years old and worked her way to a leadership role, as a Principal. Shortly after she started with the firm my dad passed away, so she did this all while raising kids on her own. Growing up, I saw how hard my mom worked and how fulfilled she was, and I followed in her footsteps. I went to school at the University of California, Berkeley where received my Bachelor’s in Architecture and while I was in school, I took an internship with Gensler twice. After graduating I took another job within the industry, but got a phone call in 2010 from Gensler’s managing director with an opportunity to work for Gensler, and I’ve been there ever since. I’ve seen the legacy and vision of Gensler for more than three decades and love working with talented people there everyday.
2. What is your current job title and what do you do?
My current roles are as a Design Director & Studio Director. As a design director my primary project focus is workplace interiors, but I love to flex to other project types. Gensler believes in co-leadership models, and I also co-direct one of our Newport Beach office’s four design studios.
3. What do you enjoy most about your position and working for Gensler?
Gensler is more to me than an employer, it's my family. I’ve not only been around Gensler for most of my life, but they have been pivotal in supporting my family throughout my entire life. There are colleagues here (and many who have recently retired) who I have known from my early childhood. I love that my position allows me to constantly learn and to help others. We often joke that what we do at Gensler isn’t brain surgery, but it is important to note that what we do can allow for brain surgery, and other critical and pivotal things to happen.
4. Are there any myths or misconceptions about working for Gensler?
Great question. I think there is a common belief that Gensler only works on large scale projects. And this is a myth I wish I could bust! Our team is extremely intelligent, works incredibly hard, and we can bring value at any scale regardless of the size or budget. Our team will go above and beyond for our clients. We design everything from large scale city masterplans to wine labels
5. Do you have a favorite recent project?
One of my favorite recent projects is our AIA award-winning project for Gold Coast Beverage. This project is with a great client who Gensler has worked with many times in the past. It was a wonderful collaboration where we could bring value across the entire project from the building architecture, interiors and branding.
6. What about a dream project or client?
Among many, one of my dream projects would be a tech startup – one that is in early stages and looks to a partner like Gensler to help start and tell their story through its space. I love projects where the lines between interiors, business culture, and purpose are intertwined. The collaborative design can have such a lasting impact on their brands.
7. What is your approach to the design process?
Every project starts with learning about the client’s “why.” I need to first understand the purpose of a space and what it needs to do for them, how it will work for them functionally. A lot of clients come to Gensler because they need this strategic thinking. I start by taking a step back and having them examine their needs, and make sure what we do is challenging them enough. Usually, we go in with what they ask for then stretch a bit. Sometimes we land too far, but eventually we find a common middle ground. Once this has been established and we get into the materiality, I start with their brand as inspiration. Not necessarily always brand colors, but the culture and essence of the brand and how it manifests itself into the physical.
8. Where and how do you go about finding inspiration for your work?
I am energized and inspired by things I see in the world. But then again, sometimes wonderful ideas come to me in the middle of the night. As you are exposed to new things, whether built or in nature, it influences your designs. I also take a lot of inspiration from wellness as wellbeing is a core value that impacts all of my designs.
9. What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t an architect?
I’d probably be a mathematician. I’ve always loved math and numbers.
10. Do you have any mentors who’ve inspired or helped you?
I have three that come to mind. First and most important is my mom. She is the biggest mentor of my life, both personally and professionally. She is an actual super hero to me, a devoted mom and passionate designer. She has achieved so much but has always epitomized grace and kindness. Kim Graham is another mentor who stands out. She was the previous Co-Managing Director. I worked with her as an intern and she is actually the one who asked me to come work for Gensler years later. She always had my back and believed in me. She has since retired, but we keep in touch. And possibly my biggest professional mentor is Jim Young, a Design Principal and Co-Managing Director for Gensler. We’ve worked together for over a decade and he is a tremendous mentor who has been so influential in my career as a designer. He embodies the Gensler entrepreneurial spirit, always encouraging me to take risks and think creatively . He’s provided me with so many opportunities, and pushed me to be a better leader.
11. How would you describe your leadership style?
Well, I’ll put it to you this way. I was recently part of a project where I received the nickname “Captain Brewer.” I’m known for being a little competitive and I think that nickname sums it up pretty well (laughing).
12. What advice would you give a kid about their future?
One of my daughters, the four-and-a-half-year-old, is very creative and into art. She comes home with a ton of art projects all the time. My advice for my kids is to always follow their passions in life and let the money follow.
13. Do you have any side hobbies or passion projects?
Between work and family, my hands are currently very full - I have four children that are five and under. However, I love working out and used to run a boot camp for the moms in my neighborhood. I also have a strong affinity for graphic design and enjoy creating custom birthday cards, Christmas cards, and labels.
14. I’m sorry, I missed everything after four kids under the age of five…
Yes, I’m the resident barf bag (laughing).
15. Ok last question. You’re on a desert island and you can only pack one book, one album and one movie. Which ones are you bringing with you?
The book I reference most often in my life and believe in is Eat to Beat Disease. Movie is Father of the Bride – I get to experience all of the emotions – laughter and sadness. Any album by Brothers Osborn is great, and my favorite song is "I Don’t Remember Me (Before You)."