Diane Jones Allen inspires faculty and students with her lecture

Diane Jones Allen discusses her design concept with community members. Allen came to speak to the students and faculty of the Landscape Architecture Department on March 4th.

April 9, 2020 Emily Stancliff

On March 4, Diane Jones Allen, well-renowned landscape architect from DesignJones LLC, gave a lecture on the strengthening of design through community engagement techniques and transactive design principles. Throughout the lecture, Allen used several of her own projects, such as Claiborne Avenue, to demonstrate the effectiveness of proper engagement techniques to design more creative and sustainable place making. 

Community outreach, Allen believes, is the most viable way to strengthen and sustain a community, a skill she carries with her in every interaction. Many students and faculty members noted that despite having never met her before, Allen came across as having a deep sensitivity to those around her, a skill not many have. “Diane has the courage and strength to advocate for the under-represented voices in our society. Game changing community engagement requires authentic emotional labor in order to be successful and most firms are just not equipped/skilled to offer that level or quality of engagement,” professor and Principal Designer of Groundsmith Collective Kelley Oklesson said.

Allen emphasized the importance of being able to connect the community with their space, which helps to strengthen the community as a whole. “[Allen] pushed that community health is a vital component to successful design. Her work values the diversity of people and places which are essential ingredients in achieving sustainability and resilience... Design should be done with an emotional sensitivity so as to not crush the spirit of a place by using a heavy stamp of design,” Oklesson said.

That being said, Allen warned, community engagement in the design process is not forcing the community to come up with the design solutions. “She strongly indicated that the community is expecting the designer to be qualified and to bring their skills to design and create a better community plan with their input. To me, this is a significant comment for those interested in community planning,” Daniel Straub, professor and landscape architect at DFB & Push Urban Design Studio, said. 

Allen also discussed how open communication is the key to re-engaging the divided societies we live in today, a lesson Straub says was a key point in the lecture. “My exposure to Diane’s presentation gave me an opportunity to re-engage in the facilitation of community planning aspects in the profession... We have so many different types of communities, and we are fortunate as planners and landscape architects that we can choose to work with all of these communities - as long as we have good communication and facilitation skills,” Straub said.

Allen’s engagement techniques inspire landscape architects everywhere, but there was something that especially clicked for the students and faculty listening to her lecture. As Oklesson said, “You could tell she believes deeply in her work and she enjoys being a life learner, which are two important keys to career fulfillment. Her humble spirit combined with her outstanding portfolio of work made me feel a deep sense of respect for her.”