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Meet Allen Compton of SALT Landscape Architects

Today we’d like to introduce you to Allen Compton.

Allen, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I received my undergraduate degree in physics but after graduation, I decided not to pursue a career in science so bought a plane ticket to travel around the world. After nine and a half months I returned and began to study photography, an early passion of mine. My professor at the time encouraged me to apply to the California Institutes of the Arts where I studied for three years and received my Masters in Fine Arts.

Just as I was finishing, the internet was becoming a significant cultural and economic phenomenon and I took a job as a web designer in Culver City for Los Angeles’ first web design studio – Digital Planet. I subsequently worked for several other startups, including GeoCities and then a small company whose ambitions were to make the first wireless phone with apps. We were ahead of Apple, but in 2001 the tech economy crashed and we closed our doors.

At this point, I realized my time in technology was a great lesson in business, but I had gotten far away from my art-making practice. After several months of thinking and research, I decided to take a class at UCLA Extention called “Introduction to the Profession of Landscape Architecture”. I was hooked. I applied to the full-time program in landscape architecture at CalPoly Pomona. This was to be my last degree!

In retrospect, I had to “bang the corners” before finding the middle. Starting with the structured thinking of physics and moving to the open-ended freedom of an art education, I finally found landscape architecture which, for me, is a perfect mix of both structured and creative thinking.

I worked for AHBE Landscape Architects and then for Rios Clementi Hale Studios, where I worked on designs for Sony Studios, various commercial projects as well as Grand Park, here in Los Angeles. In 2009 I started my own firm, SALT Landscape Architects. I started with small backyard gardens, working out of a studio at my house. After a few years, I was approached by Rachel Allen, of Rachel Allen Architecture, who asked me to share a studio space downtown with her office.

I now have six full-time designers working with me and we have over forty projects in the office, ranging from some high-end residential to commercial to schools and civic projects. Three years ago I put together the team that won the international competition to redesign Pershing Square. We are working with our design partner Agence Ter, from Paris, and Gruen Associates, here in Los Angeles on the project, along with a host of other consultants.

Has it been a smooth road?
Building any business from scratch is challenging. We continue to be in a growth phase, so balancing the need to keep a sufficient business coming in the door with a desire to provide a balanced life/work environment for the office is always a challenge. We are seeing more interesting projects arrive and I am having to be selective about the ones we take on, in order to keep some balance.

As a small business owner, I wear a lot of hats throughout the days and weeks, and trying to keep a focus on each of those areas of responsibility can be challenging. Balancing the needs of the business with my desires to be present at home with my family too takes work and planning.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
We are landscape architects who work on a wide range of project types. We design parks, commercial projects, institutions, schools, and landscapes for a range of housing types, We are known for making landscapes that respond to and reflect their location. We are known for our thoughtful approach to projects. We work collaboratively with our clients and sub-consultants to make great places.

I am most proud of our design team. We have an extraordinary group of designers who enjoy each other and the work we take on. There is a culture of open investigation and dialogue in the office that supports our creative process. In many ways, I think this culture in the office is what sets us apart from other firms.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
There are extraordinary opportunities in Los Angeles at the moment and I am excited to be a part of all that is changing in the city at the moment. For someone coming to Los Angeles to start a landscape architecture practice, it can take a while to get critical momentum going.

Relationships are key here and so it takes a while to build those connections. Working on public projects can be extremely challenging, especially in the City of Los Angeles. While the opportunities are great, the bureaucracy and fear of litigation, make innovation and experimentation in the construction world limited.

Contact Info:

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  • Phone: 213-234-0057
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