Two of the most architecturally interesting projects I’ve covered in the past couple years are the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, CA. The museum is an iconic piece of Los Angeles history that went through a masterful $173 million renovation, and the nearly $1 billion hospital project is a tribute to modern healing practices.

So it came as no surprise to me when I heard that Los Angeles-based CO Architects, the designer of both projects, was recently named California Architecture Firm of the Year by the American Institute of Architects, California Council (AIACC).

The annual award is the highest honor given to a company by the AIACC. It is 

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given to firms who consistently produce “distinguished architecture,” contribute to advancing the profession, promote collaboration, and that “mentors the next generation.” The jury said it was impressed by the CO Architects “focus and philosophy on building, and the desire to create buildings that will stand for well more than 100 years.”

Scott Kelsey, FAIA, managing partner of CO Architects said in a news release that the award recognizes the importance of the work that "architects do on a daily basis and honors the hard work and talents of our team of architects, designers, and planners.”

A few of the projects that led to the prestigious award include Queen of the Valley Medical Center Advanced Diagnostic & Surgical Pavilion in Napa; South County Justice Center, Administrative Office of the Courts in Porterville, CA; The Salk Institute – East Building in La Jolla, CA; and the Life Sciences Building at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

And of course there is also the Palomar Medical Center and the Natural History Museum.

The museum project, which completed last year, involved a massive seven-year seismic upgrade/renovation to an historic 100-yr-old facility. Highlights of the 108,000-sq-ft project incuded 3.5-acres of gardens, structures and exhibits, a pedestrian bridge, a stunning glass structure known as the Otis Booth Pavilion, and the delicate retrofit of a 1913 Beaux Arts building.

To update the structure without having to move the museum's massive basement collections or alter its classic style of columns, cornices, arches, domes and brilliant rotunda, the team employed the technique known as dry center coring.

Jorge de la Cal, AIA, principal/project director for CO Architects, told me that a more traditional method of seismically upgrading the building would have affected the space available for the collections and necessitated, at minimum, a relocation of large portions of the collections.  

On the 740,000-sq-ft Palomar Medical Center West project CO Architects used evidence-based research to design an 11-story resort-like hospital with the integration of nature and high-tech medicine.

"The whole idea for this project is a high-rise hospital set in a garden that goes up through the building," said Frances T. Moore, a associate principal with CO Architects, when I interviewed her at the project last year.


The AIACC said on its website that with CO Architects' beginnings in healthcare design, they "continue to innovate in that arena, while adding educational, laboratory and cultural specialties. The firm uses technology as an equalizer, as stated in their presentation to the Board. But the variety of categories within their portfolio expresses a diverse practice—which is team-based and well-rounded, often incorporating engineers and other collaborators."