We had the good fortune of connecting with Alison Leonard and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Alison, what is the most important factor behind your success?
What really drew me to CannonDesign is the firm’s unique Living-Centered Design approach. We are deeply committed to creating buildings and experiences where all people can flourish. Whether it’s a new mental health facility, or a student residence hall or a workplace, CannonDesign invests the time and resources to understand that organization and its people and then create spaces where they can excel long into the future. We also stand out for our innovative culture. Twice in the past four years CannonDesign has been recognized as one of the Most Innovative Architecture Firms in the World by Fast Company. We’ve also been recognized as a World Changing Company and Healthcare Design’s Health Organization of the Year. I feel remarkably lucky to represent an organization with that reputation as a behavioral health leader in Dallas. My goal is to translate CannonDesign’s experience, innovative culture and diverse service capabilities into meaningful results for Dallas and Texas. We have the ability to significantly improve mental healthcare access and experience over the years ahead and design is a critical tool to make that happen. I hope 10 years from now we can look back on numerous projects that made lives better for those who call the Dallas region home. I would also add that CannonDesign’s culture is an engine for its success. Our teams are so willing to share ideas across geographies and markets. There is this deep drive to find the right solution for our clients regardless of who gets credit. There is just an incredible team atmosphere at CannonDesign that’s inspiring each day.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m a leader in CannonDesign’s Dallas health practice who also contributes to national projects. I have special focus in mental and behavioral healthcare and there’s so much opportunity for positive change in that space. I love planning and leading projects with deep focus on the patient, staff and visitor experience. I also find so much joy in the people-side of design, meeting with others to learn about their goals, hopes and experiences. Right now, I’m really focused on building new client relationships for CannonDesign in the mental and behavioral healthcare space around Dallas and throughout Texas. There aren’t enough care spaces and resources for all those who need mental healthcare in this state and that need has been amplified by the COVID pandemic. I think more than anything I want my work to help people. There are people in every strata of society who need mental healthcare treatment but don’t receive it for a variety of reasons. There’s a lot we can do as designers to reduce stigma, increase access, improve patient experience, amplify healing. My goal is to be a change agent and help people receive needed care through new spaces, creative design and innovation. And, I hope I’m able to broaden the focus on mental healthcare to also include how we design our workplaces, our learning spaces and now honestly, work from home experiences. Mental health is so critical to a positive future for our country and society. That’s an opportunity, and I want to help our region seize it. Outside of my core role with CannonDesign, I’m also an active member of the American Institute of Architects, Women in Healthcare North Texas Chapter, and an active member of the AIA Dallas Columns Magazine Committee.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
My answer to this one has definitely shifted over the past three years as I’m now the mother of an awesome two-year-old. So, life looks a bit different, but I still frequent many of the same places…with a stroller in tow. I’d definitely want to get my friends outside. I’m a huge fan of White Rock Lake and all the trails around it. It’s truly a hidden gem in Dallas. The Arboretum is one of the most beautiful places and a must visit. Klyde Warren Park always has a ton of energy, activity and the food trucks are fun. We also love visiting the Dallas Zoo and the sloth at the Dallas Aquarium. When it comes to food, 560 in Reunion Tower is the best spot for a sunset cocktail. They also have phenomenal fried rice and desserts. Other food stops could include HG Supply, Meso Maya, Cane Rosso, and Blue Royal Grocery. Lastly, for fun, I’d encourage stops at The Star, Top Golf, The Perot Museum or AT&T Stadium for a game.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I have been fortunate through my career to always have strong mentors and leaders. I actually moved to Dallas at the midpoint of my career and that was a real challenge. New place to live, new place to work, trying to make new friends… it was exciting but scary. One of my best guides proved to be Sharif Abboud, a local fitness trainer who truly kicked my rear both physically and mentally. Sharif challenged me to get out of my comfort zone. “Be uncomfortable. That’s how you make progress,” he would always say. Sharif meant it mostly in relation to the gym, but it applies to life too. You will not grow unless you try new things and step outside your comfort zone. His workouts have become my stress outlet and a place for me to see my “second family” of friends. The positive energy there is infectious. Sharif gets my shoutout for helping me get my mind right and out of my comfort zone.
Headshot: “Laura Peters of CannonDesign”