Dana Nunez Brown, principal of Dana Brown Associates in New Orleans, is one of four Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture alumni to be elevated to ASLA fellowship in 2017.
Brown received her nomination for ASLA fellowship in service from the Louisiana chapter of the ASLA.
Originally, Brown was studying to be a museum curator at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, but circumstances beyond her control resulted in her needing to continue her education at a less expensive university closer to home. She chose LSU, but couldn’t imagine going from her small class-size of seven students to the packed lecture classes at such a large university. So she regrouped and reassessed.
“Back then, you had to register for classes at the PMAC—the old-fashioned way,” she laughed. “Counselors were on hand to answer questions, and I made a list and went from counselor to counselor, considering my options.” She met LSU alumnus and former faculty member James Turner, who started talking to her about landscape architecture. “That was 1974. I fell in love with it, and I’ve loved it ever since. Looking back, I think museum curation would have driven me nuts, being inside a building all day long doing one thing.”
Now approaching almost 40 years of experience as a landscape architect and planner, Brown has worked for firms in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Boston, Massachusetts; and Orange County, California.
After receiving her BLA from LSU, she went on to the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where she earned her MLA while working for “a big, international, swanky firm in Boston, where I couldn’t afford the wardrobe,” she quipped. Her work there included the design of a horse farm in Versailles, Kentucky, and several public parks in Boston.
She returned to New Orleans, her hometown, and worked on quite a few large planning projects before trying her hand at teaching. She taught regional planning, geographic information systems, and urban design classes at LSU for four years in the 1980s, just after the landscape architecture program moved out of the basement of the Huey P. Long Building and into the newly constructed Design Building. While at LSU, she helped set up the Computer-Aided Design and Geographic Information Systems (CADGIS) lab, which to this day provides students and faculty access to large-scale printing, scanning, computer services, and specialty software.
Ultimately, Brown decided to return to professional practice. “I still love teaching, but after four years, I felt I didn’t have any more to give. I believe in a practicing profession and that a professor has to have something they believe in to profess, and I didn’t have that yet.”
Brown packed up and headed west—to California, where she worked for EDAW, an international landscape architecture, urban, and environmental design firm that operated from 1939 until 2009, when it was merged into AECOM. In California, Brown delved into environmental design; she gradually became an expert in environmental planning, preparing environmental impact reports and resource management plans; she learned how to deal with threatened species and bird habitats, and how to create spaces without destroying the very thing that was there to enjoy.
“I thought I was in heaven learning all of that,” she avowed. “The greatest thing about this profession is that you’re always learning, always trying different parts of the profession.”
Brown introduced GIS-mapping and design methods to EDAW while working on a new 50,000-acre development in Arizona. While in California, she also worked for the environmental group at Parsons Brinckerhoff, now WSP, a leading transportation engineering firm best known for designing the original New York City subway. At Brinckerhoff, she worked with power companies across the United States to find ways to install giant transmission lines and implement hydroelectric power as conscientious stewards of the land. She managed a large 30.5-mile freeway project in California that involved the protection of historic sites, a massive environmental impact report, and coordination with the Environmental Protection Agency. The project was possibly the first in the country to be completed under President Clinton’s Environmental Justice Act. She worked on transportation corridors around the world, including a light-rail project in Jerusalem, a highway system in Nicaragua, and a high-speed rail in Taiwan.
Brown said she loved working and living in California, but she was starting to miss home, her father became ill, and then LSU called her and said they needed her to come back and teach. “It was meant to be,” Brown recalled. “I am definitely more needed here. There are a lot of people working in environmental planning in California—not so many here. I like being needed and getting into the communities.”
She taught at LSU for four more years, 2002–2005, and in 2004, she started her own Baton Rouge–based design firm, later renamed Dana Brown & Associates, a collaborative creation of landscape architects and planners who have practiced in diverse professional realms and geographic regions. DBA is one of the largest landscape architecture and planning firms in Louisiana and a state-certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, Women’s Business Enterprise, and Small Business Enterprise. The firm’s extensive experience includes stormwater and floodplain management, transportation corridor planning, urban design, comprehensive planning and economic development, park and recreation design and construction, health center planning and construction, campus master planning and construction, GIS modeling of land-use and zoning regulations, guideline development, regional planning, and ecological-based design.
“A lot of what we do in New Orleans is very, very serious environmental justice–driven work, and we get to work with communities on a lot of great projects,” elaborated Brown.
Brown’s impressive career would be enough, on its own, to earn her a spot in the ASLA’s Council of Fellows, but when combined with her pro-bono design work for nonprofit organizations, churches and neighborhood groups, and those most in need, she is the embodiment of what the term service means. Brown is described at asla.org as an “inspiring and consummate professional who places education and service above all else.” A sampling of her contributions includes the Lafitte Greenway master plan; a sensory garden for autistic children; water management and master plans for parks in Hollygrove and Hoffman Triangle, both historic African American communities; and EPA water-quality monitoring and education at three New Orleans schools. “She volunteers on public panels and boards, teaches community leaders about the importance of stormwater management, and demonstrates the vital role landscape architects play in regional planning and development,” asla.org continued.
She also continues to teach, as often as she can. She lectures at Tulane and the University of New Orleans and co-teaches studios at the LSU Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture, from time to time. And she definitely, now, has something to profess.
“One of my biggest beliefs is the marriage of science and design and designs that function. I don’t really believe in trees and shrubs just to look at but in designing functional landscapes,” she stressed.
Her advice for future landscape architects is to take risks and always be learning.
“I’ve practiced since 1979. Landscape architecture is a great profession. I wake up every day and still love it, and I’ve had a broad career all over the map. Dr. Reich made such a difference in my life, and I always try to recruit for the LSU Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture,” ended Brown.