First Woman and Youngest Managing Principal To Lead Award-Winning Architecture Firm

Jenna Knudsen’s Promotion Signifies Growth and Strength of CO Architects

Jenna Knudsen, AIA, is promoted to CO Architects’ Managing Principal, having learned from her predecessor Scott Kelsey, FAIA. Photo: John Ellis. Click here for high-resolution images.

LOS ANGELES: CO Architects promotes Jennifer “Jenna” Knudsen, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, to Managing Principal—the youngest architect and first woman to hold the position at the 35-year-old architecture and interiors firm. Knudsen, who started at CO Architects in 1998 as a project designer, led the firm’s hiring and growth during the past five years and was instrumental in its early adoption of BIM technology and collaborative project delivery models.

“CO Architects’ succession plan calls for changing leadership to ensure the firm’s longevity and diversity,” says Knudsen, who has spent her professional career at the Los Angeles firm, save for two years after graduate school in New York City. “My goals are to continue and enlarge on our core principles of distinguished design, wide-ranging opportunity, and creative collaboration.”

Knudsen follows Scott Kelsey, FAIA, who served as Managing Principal for 15 years and steered the employee-owned firm’s prescribed succession. “Strategically changing leadership is a healthy sign of a progressive and collaborative practice,” says Kelsey, a noted expert in the design and programming of schools of medicine. “CO Architects is at its zenith in terms of size and scale and is positioned to reach new heights under Jenna’s leadership.” Kelsey will focus on leading design teams, collaborating with clients, and mentoring young talent.

CO Architects has experienced 17 percent growth during pandemic times, and was recently ranked second in billings among architecture firms in Los Angeles—first for those based in LA—and the only one in the top 15 working nationally from locations only in Southern California. CO Architects has designed buildings for major national educational, healthcare, and cultural institutions, including university systems for California, Arizona, Oregon, Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Nevada, Los Angeles Unified School District, Kaiser Permanente, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, Scripps Health, Caltech, City of Hope, and Cedar-Sinai Medical Center, among many others.

Within the practice, Knudsen was one of the founders and continues to co-lead the Women of CO (WoCO) initiative that champions the professional development and leadership of the firm’s female employees. The group has focused on promoting more women to senior positions, expanding staffing roles, mentoring, and supporting work-life integration and employee well-being. Knudsen’s additional efforts to elevate female architects include serving as a past Chairperson of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Los Angeles Chapter’s Women in Architecture group.

She has championed CO’s design tech implementation for nearly two decades, embracing advanced technology to create complex buildings that have earned the firm multiple AIA Technology in Architectural Practice BIM Excellence Awards. Knudsen’s other honors include the AIA National Young Architect Award (2011) and ENR California’s “Top 20 Under 40” (2012). Outside of work, she serves on the Executive Committee for the University of Southern California’s Architectural Guild. She is also a frequent speaker and presenter on BIM-facilitated integrated project delivery, sharing her knowledge and experience at professional conferences, as well as at universities, schools, and corporations nationwide.

Knudsen received a bachelor of architecture degree from the University of Southern California in 1997, and joined CO Architects the following year. In 2001, she went to New York City to earn a master of science degree in architecture and urban design at Columbia University, which was awarded in 2002. After working with Rafael Viñoly Architects in New York, she returned to CO Architects in 2004.

“Architecture can have profound and important effects on our society, which is a great responsibility that we take seriously at CO Architects, striving to better our surroundings through design,” stresses Knudsen. “I’ve never thought about any other profession since I drew my first floorplan when I was 10 years old.”

Los Angeles-based CO Architects is nationally recognized for architectural planning, programming, and design in the higher education, science and technology, and healthcare sectors, and works with leading institutions from coast to coast. CO Architects’ specialized expertise includes transformative schools of medicine and health professions, advanced research and teaching laboratories, and innovative clinical facilities on higher education, healthcare, and urban campuses. The firm has been nationally and internationally recognized with more than 175 awards for innovative design and project delivery, including the American Institute of Architects, California Council’s Architecture Firm of the Year Award.

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