Landscape architect Brooks Swenson has a passion for helping people turn their landscape dreams into reality.
The 36-year-old was born in Colorado Springs and spent most of his childhood in Monument, attending Lewis-Palmer High School and graduating in 2007 before heading across the country to attend Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida.
Swenson earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish in 2007 — a degree he admits he now rarely gets to use — but didn’t immediately return home after graduation.
“After I got my undergraduate degree I stuck around Florida for a little bit and started working for a plant nursery down there,” Swenson said.
“It was a place I used to drive by all the time and I’d always go in there and try to get a job. So that was kind of how I got into [landscape architecture.] I started working in the nursery and caring for the plants but then also would do some small design-type jobs. And I thought it was so fun to think about how a landscape evolves and changes and the kind of space you can create as you go.”
In 2008, Swenson heard about World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms — a network of national organizations that facilitate homestays on organic farms.
In exchange for room and board, he worked on farms in Sweden for about a year.
“It was a really cool experience and one of the farms that I worked on, they were right up next to the edge of a forest so they wanted to create a café and have a trail that led into the forest,” Swenson said.
“That was one of the things I got to work on while I was there, helping to plan that and think about, ‘What will people’s experience be when they drive up?’
“I could have just been busy harvesting potatoes or something like that, but I got lucky and ended up on that farm. So those experiences were what made we want to go back to school and study landscape architecture.”
Swenson returned home to Colorado and enrolled in a three-year master’s program in landscape architecture at University of Colorado, Denver.
Prior to his graduation in 2015, Swenson took an internship with Challenger Homes that later turned into a full-time gig as a planner and landscape designer, where his job entailed planning neighborhood development.
In 2017, he joined NES Landscape Architects.
Swenson, who’s now a husband and the father of a soon-to-be-8-year-old girl, recently spoke with the Business Journal about his passion for the profession and his ultimate career goals.
Tell us about the work you do with NES?
I wanted to come to NES to work on some projects that weren’t just residential, and to work for a variety of different clients. Recently I got the opportunity to work on a beer garden that will be down off of Tejon Street, so that’s been pretty cool. I’m also doing residential communities, so like, townhome layouts, and I’ve done a few of those and really like doing them because you know specifically where the building is going … so you can kind of think about landscape spaces while you’re planning. So it’s not like you’re just having to come in and figure out where the landscaping goes. You’re thinking about it ahead of time and thinking more about common areas for kids to play and stuff like that.
What do you enjoy about the work you do?
I enjoy the creative process and collaborative process with our clients. I’m having more interaction with clients now that I’m starting to manage projects a bit, so it’s about understanding their vision and what they want to do and getting excited about it with them to be able to show them I understand what they’re saying and then provide image boards and saying, ‘Is it something like this?’ So I enjoy doing that and just getting things on paper and showing them what things are going to look like. The further you go on, the further the project materializes.
How has your job been impacted by the pandemic?
We’ve stayed busy the whole time but we did have to kind of shuffle people around to make it work. When it first hit in March, everybody left — we all started working from home and then started figuring out a schedule of how many people we could have in the office at once. But at first, it was hardly anybody going in to the office. So that was an adjustment because working from home can be challenging. It’s nice to be able to go to work and come back home, because your time all kind of blends together when you’re working from home. But for our work, we’ve been collaborating a lot on Microsoft Teams, where you can share images and files and those kinds of things to collaborate. And then there’s been a lot more go-to meetings, like Zoom meetings, so everybody has just gotten more comfortable working that way, and we realize this might not be going away any time soon so we’ve learned how to adapt to it.
What are some of your biggest career goals?
With my background experience in community farming, I’d like to lead some projects that have a robust community farm. We set aside all this land for parks and open spaces, and something I would like to see more of is … some kind of collaboration with, say, Pikes Peak Urban Gardens, where they have someone that goes and helps maintain and run the garden, and maybe they have some kind of benefit from it and they can set up a farmers market there or something like that. So I think that would be cool to see more stuff like that. I also think it would be cool to see more streamside restoration.
I recently worked on a project at Angler’s Covey, and back behind there is not a terribly polluted portion of the stream, but there’s definitely some people who have camped there and stuff. So the restoration is kind of about figuring out ways to improve our stream corridors with trails and ways to maintain them and to improve the habitat. And a lot of big cities were built turning their backs on the stream, where they kind of polluted it and built up around it so the flood plain was impacted. And a lot of them are trying to figure out ways to improve those and make them amenities for the community. It would be fun to see more of that in the Springs.
So those are a few dreams of mine, as well as educating kids about the profession. Because when I was in high school I never even heard of landscape architecture. And I think there’s kids that are really creative and it’s a great career to be creative in.
What advice would you give to young professionals here in town?
I would say to get involved. Leadership Pikes Peak — I don’t know how things are looking for them right now with the pandemic and whether they were able to do a virtual program this year, but their leadership training was really helpful for me to get out of my shell and meet some people. It helped me to understand the community and get to know what all is going on that otherwise you may not know of. So I’d encourage people to get involved in things they’re interested in outside of work. Because then you meet different people.
What do you enjoy about living in Colorado Springs?
It’s been so cool to see how much it’s changed in the past 10 years. Downtown — there’s so many new projects and businesses and I really encourage everybody to keep going to those Downtown businesses that are unique to Colorado Springs, because it’s got to be tough for them to be getting by right now. And I love all the outdoor experiences, which are so close. When we lived in Denver, we had to drive a long way to get to the mountains and usually in some traffic. But here, within five minutes I can be at Palmer Park, which is this awesome, natural, open space with rock formations. I think it’s a great place to raise a family.
What else should people know about you?
I owe a lot to my parents. My dad, he always involved me when he had landscaping projects around the house. He’d let me pick out plants and that always had a big impact on me. And my mom was always encouraging me about doing something creative. She always told me, ‘You’re so creative and you need to find out some way to use that creativity.’ And those people telling you those things, it makes a big difference. I don’t know who’s going to read this but I know my parents will so I have to give them a shoutout. And maybe that’s dorky but that’s where it all started.