Las Vegas firm wins prestigious state architecture award

Exterior of UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hospitality’s new building called Hospitality Hall on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017. L.E. Baskow

Carpenter Sellers Del Gatto Architects last month was presented with the Nevada chapter of the American Institute of Architects’ 2018 Firm of the Year award, the Silver State’s most prestigious award for an architecture firm. CSD, which started in 1986, also brought home three additional honors for individual projects—UNLV’s Hospitality Hall, Henderson Inspirada fire station #91 and the Henriksen Butler Showroom.

“We work hard to build a culture here of care—caring about the people we work with, the people that work for us and the clients that we serve,” said Michael Del Gatto, co-owner of the firm. “We’re not out for good enough; we want to be the best and we don’t stop innovating on a design until it’s right.”

A judge’s statement from the contest cited CSD’s “consistency of high-level performance” through its firm’s transition in ownership as “a testament to the strong firm ethic of design quality and service.” Judges also praised CSD for its focus on investing in its own employees (there are 29), interns and students in the community.

It’s a long way from the company’s humble beginnings. Masonry contractor Bill Daley in 1986 offered company founders his back office free for a year to set up shop. By the turn of the decade, they began growing, and by 1999 won their first AIA Nevada Firm of the Year award with a staff of 12. Del Gatto joined Rick Sellers and Steve Carpenter, first signing on in 2000, and became a partner in 2005. Carpenter retired in 2011, leaving Sellers and Del Gatto at the helm.

While the company does enough business to continue growing, both Sellers and Del Gatto said their goal is to maintain a modest size that allows them to be local and interpersonal, instead of a large agency-style corporation. Focusing on relationships and quality individual projects, with input from each of the company’s employees, has been key to CSD’s success.

“We want to get our clients as excited about architecture as we are,” Sellers said. “We’re prideful about how we do business. It’s a big family and big team all put together.”

“These are not one-and-done type clients,” Del Gatto added. “For us, it’s not about trying to grab everybody’s work, but working with people you’re going to have fun and develop relationships with.”

CSD, in their projects, oversees the entirety of a building’s construction—architects work with clients to draw a design for a new building on paper, then handle hiring and consultants and oversee construction work when necessary.

The company’s interpersonal outreach goes beyond its own projects. Del Gatto, who won his first AIA award as a high schooler in 1992, mentors AIA student participants.

The Washington, D.C.-based American Institute of Architects serves as the industry’s largest advocacy and support group. Founded in New York City in 1857, it has nearly 100,000 members across the country.

AIA Nevada, the state’s chapter based in the central valley, has held some form of the annual awards show for 62 years since its founding in 1956, said program manager Caron Richardson.

Hundreds of employees from architecture firms across Nevada showed up for November’s event at the Four Seasons Hotel. More than 50 entries were submitted to this year’s contest, and judges ranked the submissions before looking at the company names for the entries.

The six judges included members with “fellowship” status in AIA, the organization’s highest licensing distinction for veteran members, Richardson said. Other awards included those for design and the annual “young architect” prize for the top architect licensed 10 years or less. A leadership award and allied member award were also issued at this year’s event.