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Meet Allison Colwell, ASLA, LEED AP

Colwell Shelor Landscape Architecture, Phoenix, Arizona


Allison Colwell, ASLA, LEED AP

Allison Colwell, one of the two principals of Colwell Shelor, is a landscape architect whose particular passion and talent is for creating well defined, inspiring spaces that provide a connection between architecture and its surrounding garden spaces.

As both a landscape architect and architect, she possesses strong design abilities as well as technical expertise. Her many projects reflect her knowledge and use of quality and aesthetic materials, and showcase her ability to carefully and thoughtfully select plants for their sculptural characteristics whilst respecting the existing natural environment.

With over 15 years of professional experience on projects of varying scale and complexity, Allison has collaborated with creative design professionals, public artists, and city and school personnel on many of the most imaginative and technically challenging projects in the state of Arizona.

Bachelor of Architecture, School of Architecture and Allied Arts, University of Oregon

Professional Affiliations:
American Society of Landscape Architects
Arizona Forward Association

Scottsdale Public Art Advisory Board
Urban Land Institute

Speaking Engagements:
Women in Landscape Architecture, ASLA National Conference, October 2012
Desert Lifestyles: the Private Gardens of Paradise Valley, ASLA National Conference, September 2012
Formulating Design, AIA Phoenix Metro Chapter, November 2011

The Shifting Living Landscape, Arizona State University- Landscape Architecture Studio, 2010, 2011, 2014 & 2015

Professional Juror:
Arizona Forward 34th Annual Environmental Excellence Awards Program-2014
Arizona State University Design Excellence-2011

Mesa City Center 2014, winner


The plaza of Scottsdale's Museum of the West was originally designed by Artist Vito Acconci in the '90s and consists of bold, striped forms emanating from three different foci. The new design successfully integrates portions from Acconci's original concept, while also introducing new elements derived from the region's deep cultural roots in the Old West. Sandblasted tooled patterns are evocative of western embroidery and leather designs. Saguaro, barrel cactus and yucca are composed within the plaza's gardens, and slabs of Arizona brown schist are layered within the gardens to provide a backdrop of texture and serve to keep moisture in the soil. Mature native trees were salvaged and transplanted on the site.


Estrella Hall at Estrella Mountain Community College, Avondale, AZ.
Sustainability on a modest budget was the order for this landscape. Passive water harvesting increases infiltration, filters rainwater, and supplements irrigation. Landforms of positive and negative relief guide water flow to points of collection and conveyance, and serve to screen and enclose more intimate areas. Plants in low-area bioswales flourish in occasional excess water, while others on berms depend on a drier microclimate. Steel cisterns collect and release rainwater through a series of spillways. The library facade provides both a contrasting texture and permanent vine trellis on which yellow orchid vine mascagnia macroptera shades the building. Outdoor areas provide seating within a garden, and a grove of Palo Brea and colorful plantings flanks the south side of the building.


House of Desert Gardens, Paradise Valley, AZ
Located on a 7-acre property at the foot of Camelback Mountain, a prominent landmark linking the Arizona cities of Phoenix, Paradise Valley and Scottsdale, the site has a cross slope of 50' in the north-south direction. The client entertains regularly and uses their home and property for fundraising functions, and desired a water-efficient landscape that was reflective of their passion and advocacy for desert plant life. As a result, the site was transformed into one of conservation and discovery. Different areas form individual "garden galleries" that emanate a distinct landscape essence; each turn on the pathway presents a new focal point, whether coming upon a majestic cordon, a worn garden gate framing a gallery of agaves, the twisted form of an ironwood, a field of yuccas or the rich texture of rock walls contrasted with sculptural cacti or draping bougainvillea. Throughout the year, the garden comes alive as the different species flourish during the different seasons.


Arcadia Residence, Phoenix, AZ
The goal of the project was to develop a contemporary landscape and hardscape that also complements the area's historic use as a citrus grove. The landscape architect, in collaboration with the client, developed the project's concept, architectural character (including that of the house) and landscape design, including hardscape, planting, irrigation, exterior lighting, walls, fences and water features. The resulting landscape retained its historic citrus grove, original ranch house, and barn. All existing trees were protected, while more were added to strategic areas to provide shade and contrast.

Q & A

1. What was the pivotal or motivating factor(s) that made you choose a career in landscape architecture?
I studied and worked as an architect for several years before switching careers into landscape architecture. Shortly after starting my family, I moved to Phoenix from Colorado, and had two young children. It was my intention to stay involved in architecture, so I started working for landscape architect Steve Martino on a part time basis, doing some of his more technical work. He was very influential to me in many ways - his beautiful work and passion for the profession - and I got to work on some amazing projects that were very challenging. He encouraged me to pursue a dual career; at first I was only nominally interested, but became more and more so over time. I find it interesting that sometimes you can go down one road somewhat blindly, and even feel like you are making a sacrifice for the greater good of your family, but in the end, you end up feeling lucky, and in a better place. I feel that way. I didn't know a lot of about landscape architecture prior to working for Steve, but it is much more satisfying to me, and my background in architecture has made me a stronger landscape architect.

2. If you had not become a landscape architect, what profession might you have pursued?
I would most likely have stayed in the architecture profession but I was also interested in becoming a writer.

3. What do you most enjoy about being a landscape architect?
I love design - all aspects of it. That is my favorite part of the business. We work some pretty crazy hours sometimes, but I really couldn't imagine doing anything else.

4. Do you think women landscape architects generally get the same respect as their male counterparts? Have you experienced any discrimination because of your gender within the profession or by clients?
I don't see any difference in respect from clients between us and our male landscape architects, but I do think there are differences in how women in the profession are treated by contractors. I believe that it is more difficult for women to have the same credibility as men on a job site; to be able to give direction and communicate problems in construction without being thought of negatively as bossy or irritating.

5. When you first meet people not affiliated with the profession and explain that you are a landscape architect, how do you describe what you do?
When I meet new people and tell them what I do, many people think landscape architects are more like gardeners, or they think we only choose plants. People always want to tell me about their gardens and get my advice on what kind of tree they should buy. I usually tell people about some of our bigger projects, so they get an idea of the scale of them. I also like to tell people about projects that are very sustainable; those with high performance landscapes so they start to understand that landscape architecture is about big moves that repair and enhance the environment, rather than eroding it.

6. What in particular do you attribute your success to?
I have a great business partner, and she and I are very big on collaboration. We both value each other's strengths, and truly feel that all of our projects are better if we listen to each other, and each have a hand in it. We also do a lot of research; we try to really get to know our clients and the essence of a place, and express that in creative and meaningful ways.

7. What is (are) the most important contribution(s) made by landscape architects in the field of design today?
The most important contributions made by landscape architects are those that directly affect public health, through improving the environment, making our cities more livable and comfortable, and affecting the way people feel.

8. How has the landscape architecture profession changed since you first began working in the field?
I think the stature of landscape architecture in the world has come a long way. We are seen not only as capable, but a vital part of the planning process. More and more, we are asked to lead important large-scale projects that make our cities more interesting, walkable and livable, projects that spur development and improve the economic outlook.

9. What career advice would you give to recently graduated landscape architectural students as they enter the profession?
Read, travel and spend a lot of time on construction sites! Taking the time to understand how things are built, and how to communicate that through drawing is important, and will help elevate the profession in the long run.

As seen in LASN magazine, November 2016.

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October 15, 2019, 10:59 pm PDT

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