International architecture, planning, engineering, interior design, and program management firm Leo A Daly designed the soon-to-be completed seismic retrofit of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System’s Medical Center in San Diego, Calif. The $60 million project, which began in November 2005, was completed in early April 2008—two months earlier than the originally scheduled completion date.

With the design, the 238-bed medical center is being brought up to code in order to comply with new seismic standards, as the hospital would serve as a trauma center in the event of an earthquake or other natural disaster.

The five-story building’s external stairwells were reconstructed to serve as load-bearing structures in the retrofit of the one million square-foot building. An elegant, yet muscular, web of bracing spans four pairs of reinforced stairwells that are located at the end of each of the plus-sign shaped building’s wings. The structural steel "cage" stabilizes the building against lateral movement in the event of an earthquake. A striking white finish was applied to the bracing, providing the building a distinctive identity.

According to Leo A Daly Los Angeles Director of Healthcare, Bill Brintnall, AIA, "We are so excited that our design allowed the VA San Diego Medical Center to provide veterans care without interruption. The project has been a great experience, and the strong communication among the entire design and construction team and the Department of Veterans Affairs has led the building to be completed ahead of schedule."

Rather than create a retrofit plan that would entail internal demolition and reconstruction, the firm’s design for the retrofit primarily affected the exterior of the facility. This allowed the hospital to remain open throughout the construction process and to provide services to its annual caseload of more than 400,000 veterans.

"We often think of great building design in terms of architectural forms, but I believe the VA San Diego Medical Center project is a reminder that engineering excellence also is a hallmark of quality design. Our creative solution has not only lent a distinctive structural signature to the building, but allowed the medical center to remain fully operational throughout its implementation," said Hraztan Zeitlain, AIA, director of design for Leo A Daly’s Los Angeles office.

Throughout the course of the project, Leo A Daly provided structural analysis, concept design, architecture and engineering documents, and construction administration services. The project’s general contractor is Clark Construction, while Nabih Youssef & Associates is serving as engineer of record.