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CO Architects Soars in Healthcare and Education Facilities During Pandemic

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For Miracle Mile-based CO Architects, which specializes in the design and renovation of healthcare and education facilities, the pandemic has proved an unexpected boon, ushering in a period of rapid work and staff growth.

Since the start of the pandemic, CO (pronounced “KO”) Architects has increased its staff by a third, to 160 employees, prompting a move to a larger 27,000 square foot headquarters at the end of the year. ‘last year.

“After the brief initial lockdown, the work started pouring in and hasn’t stopped,” said Jenna Knudsen, the company’s new chief executive. “Healthcare and life sciences research never really slowed down and there was pent-up demand in the education market.”

Over the past 15 months, CO Architects has undertaken design work on two huge projects in the healthcare market: the five-year, $1.7 billion Harbor-UCLA Medical Center replacement project years in West Carson and a $1.3 billion hospital and medical complex on the north end of the UC Irvine campus.

Staff growth was most evident in CO Architects’ only satellite office, located in San Diego. It was opened five years ago with a handful of staff. Knudsen said the office now has a dozen employees and continues to hire.

CO Architects has a long-standing relationship with UC San Diego, having worked on more than a dozen projects over the years. The company is now in the design phase of a 250,000 square foot outpatient center on the university’s Hillcrest Medical Campus and hopes for further work on a $3 billion redevelopment plan for the entire campus. 10 acre medical.

Over the past year at least, all of these new projects and additional CO Architects staff have yet to translate into additional revenue, which fell last year to $63 million from nearly $66 million. dollars in 2020.

Nonetheless, CO Architects ranked #2 in local billings among LA County architectural firms on the Business Journal’s most recent list, behind San Francisco-based Gensler.
The business has grown steadily since its founding in 1986 as the Los Angeles office of San Francisco-based Anshen+Allen Architects, which was sold in 2010 to Edmonton, Alberta-based Stantec.

Since its inception, the company, 100% owned by employee shareholders, has focused on health and education institutions, as well as other civic projects.
“Those have always been our primary markets — and Los Angeles our primary geographic focus,” Knudsen said. CO Architects is not alone in focusing on these markets.

“Healthcare projects have long been a hot market,” said William Richards, a Washington DC-based freelance writer who has covered architecture business and culture and worked as a communications consultant at the American Institute of Architects. “Indeed, many architectural firms were founded solely for this market.”

CO Architects designed the City of Hope Ambulatory Center in Duarte.

Hot sector

Richards said higher education has also become an increasingly popular sector in recent years.
“Many universities are brimming with donations and ready to launch campus improvement projects,” he said.

The pandemic has also provided more work for architectural firms, as healthcare and other institutional settings have had to retool their heating/ventilation/air conditioning systems to improve air circulation and reduce the risk of spread. of coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 indoors.

And in California, there has been another driving factor in both markets, but especially in health care: the state’s seismic modernization requirements. In California, hospitals and other acute care facilities face a 2030 deadline to ensure they can remain operational after a major earthquake.

The Harbor-UCLA project that CO Architects recently joined the team on is a building replacement driven largely by these seismic upgrade rules.

UCLA and Paul Williams

CO Architects has also completed several earthquake-resistant renovation and retrofit projects on the UCLA campus. Among the most challenging were two buildings designed by famed mid-century black architect Paul Williams: the LA Kretz Botany Building and the Pritzker Hall Psychology Tower.

“It was very challenging: because these were Paul Williams buildings, we spent a lot of time figuring out how to respect the original designs while bringing the buildings up to modern standards,” Knudsen said. “The placement of the shock absorbers was particularly difficult” to dampen the jolts caused by the earthquakes, she added.

Peter Hendrickson, associate vice chancellor of design and construction at UCLA, worked with CO Architects on both projects.

“What stood out to me was how CO Architects was able to work on these two very complex seismic projects when both buildings were fully occupied,” Hendrickson said.

“CO Architects did something very unusual: they involved the students and faculty using the two buildings in the design and construction process,” he continued. “They went above and beyond the expectations of the building’s end users to really understand what the program was all about. And, just as important, they incorporated student and faculty feedback into the design.”

Last year, just after the completion of the main works on the La Kretz Botany building, CO Architects led an additional – and unexpected – project.
“In the Botanical Building, we came across a design for a mural by Paul Williams that never made it into the original building,” Knudsen said. The design was black and white and featured a glass mosaic filled with plants along the bottom. “We created a mural in the building based on this original concept,” she added. This involved some of the firm’s architects studying Williams’ other works to better understand his color preferences.

Growth keeps coming?

Like many architecture and design firms in recent months, CO Architects has experienced longer delays between submitting designs and starting construction. As a rule, most of this time is spent on the supply of building materials. But since early last year, soaring material costs, supply chain issues and other difficulties have extended the lead time by more than six months for many projects.

Knudsen added that in response, CO Architects adjusted the materials required by its designs. “In many cases, the materials we choose now initially may not be the same as three years ago,” she said.
The company has also revised its designs to adapt to the changing nature of the workplace brought about by the pandemic.

“We now need to adjust designs for new workplaces where many people work remotely most of the time and occasionally come into the office,” she said. “That means multiple uses for outdoor spaces, different sizes of meeting rooms, and working with engineers to improve ventilation, among other things.”

As for growth, the company is not looking for geographic expansion. “We plan to expand services to customers in our core markets: interior design, medical space planners and environmental graphics technology,” she said.

Geographically, CO Architects remains firmly focused on Los Angeles as its core market and has no plans to open additional offices beyond San Diego in the near future.

Knudsen said that when project opportunities arise in other parts of the country, the company works through partnerships with local architectural firms in the project area.
“Sometimes these companies do the permitting and we tend to be the design architect, especially for projects in our core practice areas,” she said.

Acquisitions are also not on the menu in the near future, she added. “We are focusing more on organic growth.
It’s an appropriate strategy at this stage in the field of architecture, said Richards, a writer and industry communications consultant.

“Looking at the areas that CO Architects are focusing on, they fall within the top growth areas: healthcare, education and technology.”