Diane Jones Allen, PLA, is program director for Landscape Architecture at the University of Texas, Arlington as well as principal of DesignJones in New Orleans. She received a bachelor’s of fine arts from Washington University in St. Louis, a master’s in landscape architecture from the University of California Berkeley and a doctor of engineering from Morgan State University in Baltimore. In 2016, DesignJones, LLC, received ASLA’s Community Service Award.
How did you get into landscape architecture?
In college, I didn’t even know it existed—that’s one of the problems with our field. I knew of architecture but not landscape architecture. I was majoring in painting and got a notice about an environmental design program that mentioned landscape architecture. Growing up, I’d been a Girl Scout and always loved the outdoors and parks, and it dawned on me that someone has to design all that. Knowing there was a specific discipline that put together all the things I cared about—art, the environment, doing good in the world—I was overjoyed.
How long have you been teaching?
I started as an adjunct professor in 2005 and started full-time in 2006. I’ve spent most of my career in the private sector and still like to have my hands in design, even though being a program director is a full-time job.
Only 1 percent of landscape architects are African-African—what is that like for you?
When I came here, I was the only Black faculty member in the department but we have another African American coming in. We’re diverse in that we have many international students and Latina students, but I’ve made it a point to recruit African Americans. I want young people to know this is a possibility to deal with important issues and give back to the community.
Do you consider yourself a role model?
I’ve had some young African American women tell me I’m a role model, and for that, I feel grateful.
Tell us about your work at DesignJones?
There is another principal in the firm who runs everything, and I do the design on selective projects. I love being able to engage with communities and design work. We’ve worked on the MLK walk at Hayden Plaza in New Orleans, and are working on a trial project in Baltimore, a public park in Texas and a memorial in Cleveland … we tend to do it all: residential, commercial, publicly funded work.
What are the biggest challenges in the industry?
I think a lot of the work that landscape architects do is often taken on by other disciplines. Clients are hiring architects and engineers and not landscape architects.
What would make the industry better?
I think continuing to make communities, clients and municipalities aware there is a profession that deals with key issues. We can be helpful in solving the issues of climate change and creating open space.
What have been your personal career challenges?
As a small African-American firm, we realize there are projects we aren’t going to get, and others we’re selected to do are “African-American” projects. But we’ve learned to embrace that. We’ll never get the big park or the big plaza, but we’re getting projects that impact our community, and we are happy with that.
What’s the key to good design?
I do think there needs to be more connection with those who design the landscape and those who actually install it. Understanding how things are built helps you do the design. I think a good designer uses their creativity in service for the people who are going to use it. That means really listening to them and understanding their use of space.
What has COVID taught you?
Residents want better backyards and better urban environments. Cities want more open space. Something positive has come out of something negative. The pandemic has increased awareness of the importance of our work and brought hope for our profession.