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

March 17, 2021
Scott Kelsey, FAIA, and Jenna Knudsen, AIA, CO Architects

Los Angeles-based CO Architects recently announced the promotion of 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,” said 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.

Jennifer Knudsen, AIA, CO Architects
Jenna Knudsen, AIA, is managing principal at CO Architects—the youngest architect and first woman to hold the position. Photo: John Ellis


“Strategically changing leadership is a healthy sign of a progressive and collaborative practice,” said 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.

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. 

[Related: Mary-Jean Eastman Helps Pave the Way for Women in Architecture]

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. 

“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,” stressed Knudsen. “I’ve never thought about any other profession since I drew my first floorplan when I was 10 years old.”

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. 

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Robert Nieminen | Chief Content Director

Robert Nieminen is the Chief Content Director of i+s and BUILDINGS media brands, and an award-winning writer, editor and design industry veteran with more than 20 years of experience in the publishing industry.