CONSTRUCTION LEADERS TODAY
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AN INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE After graduating with degrees in French and philosophy, Dennis Allen made a complete turnaround and went on to start one of Southern Californiaâ€™s most successful construction companies.
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GLOBALLY-grown LOCALLY-minded Armed with degrees in philosophy and French, Dennis Allen began his construction career building conversational bridges during the Vietnam War. Since then, he has come to build one Southern California’s most successful construction companies, this time with his local community in mind. by Joel Cornell
Unlike the majority of today’s most successful sustainable designers and builders, the current president of Allen Associates, Dennis Allen, did not begin his career immersed in architecture or construction. In fact, in the initial years before forming his company, Allen would admit to having never built a thing in his life. Nonetheless, his firm, based in Santa Barbara, Calif., is one of the country’s leading sustainable construction firms operating today. While attending the University of California, Santa Barbara in the early 1960s, Allen initially began as a double major in physics and mathematics. Eventually, he ended up graduating with a double major in two fields even less related to custom residential building: French and philosophy. His graduate school career took him to the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University with the intention of working within the United Nations. At this time, the Vietnam War was escalating quickly. Soon, Allen was drafted. He took a stand as a conscientious objector and, due to his qualifications and ability to speak French fluently, performed his alternative service in Europe building understanding amongst diplomats, youth leaders and community organizers holding different perspectives. Working in Europe gave him a deep appreciation of architecture, plus building bridges among people of diverse views and cultures equipped him with invaluable skills for later working with architects, bankers, consultants and clients. After several years
THIS PAGE: In the initial years before forming his company, Dennis Allen would admit to having never built a thing in his life. Nonetheless, his firm based in Santa Barbara, Calif. is one of the country’s leading sustainable construction firms operating today. Photo by Emily Hagopian. OPPOSITE PAGE: Originally built in 1973, this Sycamore Canyon home had modern bones but lacked refinement. The major challenge for was taking this small house; preserving its modest sensibility and making it feel grander than it was, then coming back almost surgically and giving it the craft and elegance it never had. Photo by Jim Bartsch.
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abroad, he met his future wife in France. They eventually returned to Santa Barbara where Allen accepted the position of Assistant Dean of Foreign Students at the University of California Santa Barbara. As the war continued to rage overseas, and the tumultuous societal conditions in Santa Barbara escalated, Allen and his wife left for San Francisco where he spent four years doing peace organizing and media work. Eventually, he was sent back to Paris by several of the major peace organizations to monitor the Indochina peace talks. As the war ended and Allen returned to Santa Barbara, energy problems like the 1973 oil embargo plagued the region. “While I was at UCSB, I also audited several classes at Stanford University on physics and modern energy consumption,” Allen said. “I became extremely intrigued by renewable and sustainable energies, although much of it was science fiction stuff too good to be true. I spent about six months devouring book after book on solar energy and I found there existed a significant solar industry in California in the 1930s, especially in solar thermal. “A colleague of mine approached me about the new house he was building and I suggested he build it as an entirely independent solar house. He loved the idea and committed to exploring the concept in his new house design. Six months later, he came to me and told me that he couldn’t find anyone local who knew about solar energy in the residential housing market. He asked me to do it, despite the fact 4 Winter 2010
THIS PAGE: Photos courtesy of Allen Associates. (TOP) Dennis Allen meeting with one of his early clients in the mid-1970s. (CENTER) Dennis Allen has been a leader in sustainable building practices since he started in construction in the early 1970â€™s. Dennis is featured in this November 1976 issue of Sunset Magazine building the first passive solar home in Santa Barbara. Clipping courtesy of Allen Associates. (BOTTOM LEFT TO RIGHT) An aerial view from the Santa Barbara Tea Fire (November 2008). The burning home is that of the client who received the home built and donated by Allen Associates and featured at the April 2009 Earth Day; Dennis Allen (left) and Ian Cronshaw have been partners since Allen Associates was incorporated in 1983. Photo from early-1990s
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THIS PAGE: Sustainable elements of the Victoria Garden Mews project include passive solar design, concrete with 42 percent fly ash, reclaimed oak flooring, natural clay wall finishes, LED lighting, and an hydraulic garage lift system for parking. Photo by Meghan Beierle.
that I hadn’t built much of anything at that point. But, I loved a good challenge and I told him I would.” In 1975, Allen and a handful of his colleagues built Santa Barbara’s first completely solar residence. He and his crews continued building other residences in the area until 1983 when the progressive tax credits expired and much of the prevalent interest in solar was lost. It was that year that Allen incorporated Allen Associates as a fully-tailored, customresidential, sustainable building company. From these unexpected beginnings, Allen Associates has since become the go-to company for any client looking to push the envelope or try new and innovative approaches to building in the Santa Barbara area. David James of Masco Contractors Santa Barbara has known Dennis for over 30 years and calls him the “guru” of green building in Santa Barbara. “His organization sets the standard in Santa and they have gone above and beyond to create a green community,” James said. “We have been fortunate to be one of his key insulation contractors over the years.” The company specializes in new residences and remodeling work, while also existing as a specialist for energy audits and consultation. Additionally, Allen Associates maintains a building care & repair division that handles a plethora of small, new construction and renovation projects. For each and every project, regardless of size, the company always holds itself to certain energy efficiency standards, whether the clients want to or not. “What’s led us to where we are is the fact that we’ve tried to build in a way that is
FERGUSON Ferguson is the proud partner and supplier of plumbing fixtures and appliances for Allen Associates’ Victoria Garden Mews project. Selections included Miele appliances and plumbing fixtures from California Faucets, Hansgrohe, Toto and Rohl. Ferguson realizes that your success depends on your customers’ satisfaction. Today’s happy client is next year’s building project or next month’s referral. Ferguson does whatever it takes to keep the building process as smooth and exciting an experience for your customer as possible. And, that sells more than just product. That sells you. Ferguson Bath and Kitchen Gallery in Santa Barbara is located at 602 East Montecito Street, (805)962-5811. For a location near you, visit ferguson.com
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more than making money,” Allen said. “Every firm has to stay in business, but we’ve tried for over 30 years to build in a way that uses resources more carefully, makes homes for the clients more healthy and comfortable, and increases durability by paying proper attention to details such as drainage issues, waterproofing, etc. With that kind of mission, we’ve drawn people to us who want to do great work; people who have done exceptional work in the past and want to work for an exceptional company.” In 2006, Allen Associates continued its culture of excellence when it started the process of becoming an employee-owned company. This has given each employee a real investment in their own work, and has done wonders to establish a true feeling of community and family within the company. In 2007 and 2008, two major wildfires ravaged Santa Barbara and the surrounding area. The first one burned over 240 homes to the ground in a single night. Just seven months later, a wildfire five times larger struck with devastating force. After natural disasters such as these, it’s not uncommon to find builders from across the state flocking to the area to try and coax people into hiring them to rebuild. As a recognizable and important part of the Santa Barbara community, Allen Associates refused to take part in any such media frenzy and instead focused their attention to the community in need. “We started by becoming a part of the community forums as experts and as a public resource,” Allen said. “We lobbied a wide array of agencies to expedite the rebuilding process so that our neighbors could have roofs over their heads. We put together extremely detailed estimates and analysis of reconstruction budgets. All of these things we did pro bono, as an investment in our community. “Additionally, we worked for many fire victims in challenging the insurance companies, as many of them were trying to get their clients to agree to smaller settlements than they should be getting with figures negotiated ABOVE: In keeping with the owner’s Italian origins, the interior of this Montecito estate incorporates authentic antique beams, flooring, tile and fireplaces. Photo by Jim Bartsch. MIDDLE: The Company has not been afraid to try new building materials and systems, including this straw bale home in the Cuyama Valley where ambient temperatures range from well over 1000 in summer and below freezing in winter. Photo by Emily Hagopian. BOTTOM: The major design and planning objectives for this two bedroom and one bath guest cottage were to create an accessory living space for the client’s grown children and grandchildren, maximize usable living space while adhering to the local jurisdiction’s strict 800 sq. ft. size restriction, and build a small, quality structure with the look and feel of the area’s grand Mediterranean style homes. Photo by Deborah Wiggins. OPPOSITE PAGE: The company’s custom division is structured on the associates model, with seven associates who are salaried employees but function like independent general contractors. Each associate oversees his own projects and clients. The Allen Associates team from left: (lower level) Ben Cervantes, Jeff Hunt, John Scoggins, Dennis Allen, Ian Teasdale, Jed Harpster, Jim Morledge; (upper level) Bryan Henson, Ian Cronshaw.
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Published on Jan 26, 2011
After graduating with degrees in French and philosophy, Dennis Allen made a complete turn-around and went on to start one of Southern Califo...