University of South Florida

College of The Arts

University of South Florida

Dawn Gunter, Class of ’10, Principal and Co-Managing Director at Gensler

Portrait of USF Architecture alumna, Dawn Gunter

Dawn Gunter, Principal and Co-Managing Director of Gensler's Tampa Office

Dawn Gunter believes there is great value in what architects do: "As problem-solvers, architects are fantastic."

Using design to tackle sustainability issues, such as global warming and housing for all demographics, Dawn and fellow architects can uniquely impact the lives, health and wellness of people and cities worldwide.

Dawn earned her Master of Architecture from the USF School of Architecture & Community Design (SACD) in 2010. Today, she is a principal and co-managing director for the Tampa office of Gensler, an internationally renowned architecture and design firm with offices around the world.

According to Dawn, whose main focus is building relationships with clients to create transformative design, "trust is key." As relationships between clients and Gensler grow stronger, projects evolve and become more impactful. Trust, she stresses, is also key in developing clients' confidence to try new and innovative design solutions.

Currently, Dawn is involved with the design for Tampa's Riverwalk Place, a mixed-use tower over 50 stories high that will activate the Riverwalk and is set to become the tallest tower on Florida's west coast. Dawn is also the principal-in-charge for a 20-story office tower over an activated retail base that will be located along Morgan Street, in Tampa's new Water District.

Activating the city's urban core to transform it into a place where everyone – regardless of age, career stage, or income – can live, work and play has always been a passion of Dawn's.

For her master's project at USF, Dawn elevated the Tampa convention center, creating a mixed-use facility featuring a myriad of amenities, including retail spaces, an Olympic-sized pool, a rowing facility, hotels, and more. "The goal is to make cities experiential and inclusive," she explains.

When Dawn decided to pursue her master's degree to become a registered architect, she had already gained extensive experience in the field, having worked in architecture firms for 15 years. It was the quality of work being produced at the School of Architecture & Community Design that helped her choose the University of South Florida.

At SACD, Dawn joined a community of students diverse in age and cultures. Learning with and from them was a highlight, she says. She appreciated how students talked about their projects, approaches, and design philosophies with a richness that delved deeper than the empirical aspects of architecture.

In fact, the culture of helping promoted in the SACD studios left a lasting impression on Dawn. Whenever a student was struggling with an issue or a project, other students came together to help and make sure everyone advanced.

Graduates from the USF architecture program practice this attitude of support in the workplace as well. When later on Dawn and her team at Gensler encountered challenges with a project, a fellow Gensler architect not assigned to the project stepped up to help. He, too, had received his degree from USF. Along with developing design skills, the SACD studios emphasized the importance of sharing your skills with others. "Your work has more impact when you engage in a culture of shared innovation," Dawn said.

While working on her master's thesis at USF, Dawn learned software relevant to architecture, like Revit, Rhino and InDesign.

"Learning the latest software allowed me to be more impactful with my time," she said. "I could use these programs in responding quickly to challenges, elevating designs, and developing the tools required for powerful delivery." Within an eight-hour day, Dawn was able to spend more time advancing the design and interacting with her clients.

Professors Michael Halflants and Trent Green were especially influential to Dawn's growth as an architect at USF.

Through Halflants, she grasped the importance of craft and locality. Due to South Florida's tropical landscape, the region's architecture is unique from that of areas with milder climates. Halflants prompted students to take into account all aspects of an environment – from the sun and the breeze to the landscaping – when designing, and to choose resilient materials well-suited for each climate. Through his teachings, Dawn became inspired by and committed to localized, responsive architecture and design.

Through Green, Dawn developed a more holistic architectural approach. Beyond thinking plainly in terms of "this is a hotel, this is a convention center," Green guided students to find innovative ways to put elements together. Dawn then expanded her knowledge of mixed-use and urban design to layer simple architectural elements in such a way that would enhance people's ability to live, work and play.

At USF, Dawn traveled with classmates and faculty on SACD field trips to Baltimore, Boston, and Los Angeles. Seeing new cities alongside fellow students and professors provided Dawn with new perspectives on architecture "because you learn what that architecture means to them."

Reflecting on her time at USF, Dawn says it's hard to choose one favorite memory.

"I was with my family walking along the Amalfi Coast in Italy, on a remote hiking trail in the small village of Cinque Terre, and I thought I recognized someone coming from the opposite direction. The second person coming toward me looked familiar too, and by the fourth person, I said hi, and realized I knew the entire group."

Her classmates and faculty were on a study abroad trip and happened to be hiking the very same trail at the very same time. Later, another classmate who hadn't joined the hike stopped by Dawn's hotel to say hello, further showcasing the close bonds Dawn formed with fellow students.

"What are the chances?" Dawn laughs.

Describing her time at USF as a positive experience, Dawn says, "I was very passionate about the work and what I was learning. There were challenges because I was working and I had two children, but I loved it – every minute of it."

To new students pursuing architecture, Dawn encourages them to "follow your heart."