“A few years back, a client described me as ‘the left brain to a right-brained industry,'” says Gordon Linden. “I felt it as a real compliment, because it captured the essence of how success is achieved – by connecting the forces of creativity with the practical needs of organization and implementation.” For more than 30 years, Linden has played the left-brained businessman to creative visionaries around the world, contributing to hundreds of major events, visitor attractions and other one-of-a-kind projects.
After graduating with a degree in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley, in the late 1960s, Linden spent three years with the Peace Corps, working for a city development corporation in Venezuela. “Real projects for people with real needs-it was a life-changing experience. Being right out of school, my technical skills and experience were limited.” Unexpectedly, his earlier experience-as a professional tenor saxophonist backing such artists as Gene Pitney, the Olympics and Johnny Burnette – came in handy. “I got my feet wet writing contracts, keeping up on getting paid and dealing with the promoters. It was a great education, in many ways, for what lay ahead.” In Venezuela, “with a lot of late nights and a great spirit of collaboration with my co-workers, we designed and built several significant projects for the community-including a beach recreational facility, a new City Hall and a municipal market.”
Back in the U.S., Linden broadened his appreciation of project development by obtaining his Masters in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Southern California. He taught planning for USC in Mexico, then worked as a planner for Los Angeles-based Gruen Associates. Re-settling in his native San Francisco Bay Area, he joined the Bechtel organization, an affiliation which lasted more than 20 years.
In the early 1980s, at Bechtel, Linden began to take a managerial role. His fluency in Spanish, coupled with an enthusiasm for world expos and international events, helped engage Bechtel on such projects as Seville Expo �92 and Barcelona’s 1992 Olympic Games. As planning progressed to implementation, Linden’s Barcelona assignments included the temporary adaptation of three Olympic Villages, and the monitoring of more than 250 projects, from sports venues to regional highways. “After the Olympics were successfully completed, we had a meeting with the Mayor of Barcelona, Pascual Maragall, during which he thanked the Bechtel team for letting him sleep at night! That comment made those previous two years of hard work seem like they’d gone by in a minute. It was incredibly rewarding.”
Subsequently, Linden led Bechtel teams on a variety of other major projects: a global construction program for a major financial institution; Budapest Expo 96 (cancelled for political reasons); design and planning for a children’s museum in Madrid; a UK visitor attraction themed on the industrial revolution; a resort on the island of Sardinia, Italy. He saw a return to duty with the Olympic Games, as study manager assessing the status of planning and development for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. And he found the time to obtain his MBA in management at San Francisco’s Golden Gate University, which helped him “learn to think like a developer.”
In 1999, Linden joined Parsons Corporation. He was soon engaged as technical consultant to the Athens Olympics 2004 Organizing Committee, on an architectural competition for the new Athlete’s Village. “Like Barcelona, Athens has promised a new residential complex to accommodate the i6,ooo athletes and officials attending the Games. It has been important to establish that the temporary requirements of the Games are just that: temporary. Cost-effective solutions to temporary needs are essential in these budget-conscious times.”
Linden’s talents have also been applied to the Middle East. “Destinations once considered remote or off-limits are now developing extensive infrastructure and seeking to attract tourists. We are working with the Sultanate of Oman which, for decades, has been literally closed to outsiders. The development of a Tourism Priority Action Plan, which Parsons has led, is a major step towards channeling resources and conceiving sustainable, attractive projects.” Linden is also playing a part in the development of Palm Island – a massive, manmade island in Dubai intended for resort development. “Dubai is very focused on its goal of becoming a major business and tourist destination. Palm Island is a unique response to the scarcity of attractive beachfront sites in this part of the world – it literally creates more beachfront!”
Linden nurtures the hope that the U.S. will once again stage a world’s fair. “Ask people on the street whether they’d go to an Expo and they’ll say ‘absolutely, yes,’ and tell you fondly about Seattle or New York. But we haven’t hosted one since 1984 [New Orleans].” He notes that recent attempts to get a world expo off the ground-in San Francisco, Charlotte, Atlanta and other cities-have not prospered. “It doesn’t help that the US failed to participate in Hanover Expo 2000, and that the US government may withdraw from the Bureau of International Expositions.” [The BIE, a treaty organization, registers and regulates world expos.] “In the right place, at the right time, an Expo could do a lot for a U.S. city., and world’s fairs could regain their former glory here – just as the Olympics were given a new face in 1984, by Los Angeles’ exemplary management-in which both Bechtel and Parsons were involved,” says Linden, who is working on a book examining the role railroads have played at US world expos.
Come what may, Linden looks forward to the future. He is especially interested in the potential of relatively underdeveloped markets such as in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. “They have tremendous, pent-up demand and enthusiasm for new, innovative development. With a little ‘left-brain’ stimulation, most ‘right brain’-type projects have the underlying motivation and elements to feed economic development and improve the quality of life.”