ASLA President-Elect, Brett Allen's Thoughts on Landscape Architecture

Updated: Sep 16, 2019


Brett Allen, Associate, a key team player since 2004 at VDLA.

How did you get into landscape architecture?


I started helping my mom around the house at a very young age, developing a love for the landscape. My mom taught me a lot in the garden, educating me on different plants and helping me learn how to care for them. As young as five years old I could even recall plant materials and their names. I've always had a love for the natural world.


It was in high school that I found out that some of the electives were agricultural based classes. I took some landscape design classes and later found FFA (Future Farmers of America). I started entering plant ID competitions and landscape design competitions at the State fair. I had discovered landscape architecture via FFA and these design competitions. I even built my own green house in my backyard and started growing many different plants. FFA really helped me find my major when I later entered college.


I thought maybe I wanted to get into Botany but the lab wasn't as interesting to me.

I get a lot more joy from helping people use their spaces than developing new species of plants. I am a right brained person, I am creative and I wanted to put that to use in the design world.


I get a lot more joy from helping people use their spaces.

I worked with a landscape contractor as a freshman in college. I took construction document plan sets and bid them, did quantity take-offs and as-builts on mylars. I would redraw irrigation by hand on mylar. I was then required to work under a licensed landscape architect at a design office so I got out of the contracting side of the industry and into design.


What is your favorite thing about landscape architecture?


I get to work with plant material, living things. As a child I'd frequently visit my grandparents and spend many hours outside climbing trees and exploring my environment. I love incorporating plant material in the urban and built environment and seeing the role it plays in people's happiness. Knowing I can increase people's happiness using plant material is very rewarding.


A playground with parents and their kids or a passive park for the elderly, these are my best experiences-making people happy.

What motivated you to run for the ASLA San Diego President Position for 2020?


I was told I would be good at it, and kind of fell into the position. I'm still early on in my career and I knew that it would be good for me to continue to develop professionally. I think that this position will help me to broaden my understanding of the profession. I'll be going to Washington the 1st of May to lobby on various issues, including the licensing of landscape architects which comes up every few years.


What has ASLA done for you, would you recommend membership?


Yes. I recommend people get involved with ASLA to broaden their outlook on the industry and to see what their peers are doing. We need to work as a whole to maintain our profession. I think we need to stick together on various issues. We all work on a variety of different projects and it's important that everyone doesn't work individually. ASLA shows that we are a community and it gives landscape architects a community to be a part of, a place where we can all learn and grow together.


What has been one of your best experiences in your career so far?


The best experience is always the reward of a completed project with happy clients. A playground with parents and their kids or a passive park for the elderly, these are my best experiences-making people happy. Other good experiences include using low water use native plant materials and helping to open people's eyes to better solutions for the future. Long term solutions for long-lasting projects.


It's really rewarding when you see people starting to understand what we do as landscape architects. Many people have problems they don't know they have and we solve them in ways they don't understand, but once they are solved, they get it. This is very rewarding, to help people understand the value in our work.

Brett, PM, at the City Office REIT site earlier in 2019.


Many people have problems they don't know they have and we solve them in ways they don't understand, but once they are solved, they get it.

What do you hope to accomplish as president in 2020?


Do I need a platform??? I'm still deciding, as president-elect at this point. One thing I will say though is that it is very frustrating when I continue to see wrong plants being used with wrong irrigation, and they don't last. So for me, it will likely be along the lines of ensuring that maintenance, plant material and irrigation choice are taken into consideration for longevity of the project.


Long term solutions for long-lasting projects.

Where do you see the field progressing over the next 5-10 years?


I'm hoping that innovation continues, including irrigation technology as well as the trend of less hardscape and more permeable surfaces from renewable items. Less pavement, and considering the plants before pouring the concrete. We need to push forward the idea of thinking about the landscape before the hardscape. Landscape needs to be thought of as part of the design. Instead of filling in the holes we need to work more in conjunction with the architects and builders in the planning stage. The integration of the landscape not as an afterthought, but in the initial concept design stage.


The integration of the landscape not as an afterthought, but in the initial concept design stage.

What is your favorite part of working with VDLA? Why have you stayed for 15 years?


I like the projects we work on. We do a lot of community development and commercial projects. Working with various agencies and their projects are really important. The communities we help to develop and the maintenance that needs to be considered long-term for a new community to thrive is so important. We are using sustainable materials that last a long time so that these communities can thrive over a long period of time. I have a say in what some of these neighborhoods are doing. VDLA has set a lot of trends in community development with our plant material.



Brett celebrated 15 years at VDLA March 15, 2019.

Do your family and friends ask you to help with their landscapes?


Always! And friends of friends and families of family. And I'm always glad to help. I love to educate people. I do napkin sketches and designs all the time. Everybody uses their personal property differently, but I like to lay out the pros and cons of what they are doing and open their eyes to new possibilities and the risks and drawbacks to what they are considering. I like to ensure the success of any planted environment, even when I am helping out friends and family.






I like to ensure success of any planted environment.

Do you volunteer in your community?


Yes, one thing I'm really excited about now is working with the tree planning committee. We are helping to develop new planting standards throughout the city to ensure that our urban forest will survive and continue to be populated. For every big tree that is cut down we need to plant 10 new ones.


What else would you like to share with us?


I have become involved with the emerging professionals committee in ASLA. I was not aware of this group earlier in my career and I wish I would have known about it, because working with other people to pass the test would have been nice. If I had a group earlier on I would maybe have gotten my license sooner. I started out getting my Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor and Certified Irrigation Designer certifications. Working in a study group and sharing with others can be very helpful for those who are in college and still considering a degree in landscape architecture and for those who are working to get their licenses. FFA grabbed me in high school and helped me get to where I am, but I was not fully aware of all the benefits of ASLA when I first started working in the industry. Now that I am aware, I'm happy to share my knowledge with others.


© 2018 VAN DYKE LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.