Harrisonburg Architect

It is a struggle to start a business in a new (small) town. I have been in Harrisonburg since July 2008, when we moved from Lake Monticello so my wife could take her dream job at Eastern Mennonite School. I love being surrounded by the mountains again having grown up in Roanoke and being used to 360 mountain views, Charlottesville never really felt like home. However, we timed it just right to hit the worst financial downturn in my lifetime. So we faced some challenges getting our branch office to be productive in Harrisonburg. I am still busy with Charlottesville work and continue to look for more work in Central Virginia, but I want our Valley office to stand alone as well. I was worried coming into a more conservative town (compared to Charlottesville) that my strong focus in Sustainable Design might be a hard thing to sell, but I have found tremendous support for going green in Harrisonburg Architecture. I have had some setbacks along the way, losing a LEED job to an architect with no LEED experience (we have 8 projects registered or certified in the LEED rating system) , learning to compete with unlicensed designers (that does not seem to exist in Charlottesville), and struggling to find my place in the community. However, I have had more successes: building strong relationships with community leaders and green builders, finding that there is a whole community that wants sustainable design in Harrisonburg, and finding clients willing to take a chance on a new (to Harrisonburg) architect. Our firm has existed in Central Virginia for 25 years and we have a strong reputation for doing quality work at an affordable price, but being the new kid in town, it seems to start over. When you say “I have a second office in Charlottesville” many believe you will be too expensive without question. You have to build new bridges, meet new people, overcome preconceived notions, and work with new standards. I had a great day yesterday, delivering schematic design on a residential project and getting rave reviews from the client and getting an endorsement from another client that I was not expecting. I know the economy is thawing out based on the number of new jobs I have on my desk – many here in the Valley, I know I am building a solid reputation in Harrisonburg for my sustainable work, and I hope to build more relationships over the coming years as we continue to offer sustainable architectural design to the Valley. I do still struggle to accept being overlooked or passed by because of still being considered new or assumed that I will charge too much because of our other office location, but I know I offer a valuable unique architectural service in the valley and I will gain my share of support from the community over time. It has been a great week and I hope it continues!

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  1. virginia Reply

    go Charles!

    I too did a major leap to focus ONLY on green/sustainable design and to drop out of retail garden center in July 08. 2 months later people asked me what I knew that they didn’t about the market downturn. Answer: nothing except skyhigh oil/transport/energy costs + May 08 washington post series about what the Fed under Greenspan knew and didn’t know about the mortgage securitization mess (Greenspan didn’t want to know, didn’t collect the data, and when confronted with it, insisted his paradigm was intact…sigh) + a belief shared by employees and landlords that they ‘deserved’ more $ for doing less and less.

    At last, I said, “I am in a green business. Why am I violating my sustainability principles by heating and cooling the great outdoors in a leaky old building that is ideal for a green retrofit, and paying sky high prices for energy and water transformed into plants?” After a months long effort to introduce basic energy efficiency to the building (landlord refused to install a setback thermostat, saying (quote): “We are not interested in being green. You need to get better employees to move the thermostat up and down when they come in and leave.” and then, a bona fide effort to buy the building and stop the insanity, both rebuffed by the landlord, I moved the entire business to our farm to my locally built timberframe studio made from Structural insulated panels, reclaimed windows and doors, with infloor heat courtesy of the Taylor water woodstove right outside.

    The sustainability/green jobs work is the only way out. NPR did a good story on US Green Building Council/LEED about a month ago…and other rating systems. They quoted McGrawHill construction tracking data which indicated that a full 30% of the commercial/public construction being done in this country right now are LEED candidates/registered.

  2. harrisonburg architect Reply

    Virginia – why is it that “because that is the way we always do it” has become an accepted answer for so many people. I don’t want to push change for the sake of change, I want change for the sake of common sense. If you can automate controls for little to no money to save energy, why would you not want to do that? Crazy! I am glad you found a great solutions for conserving your and our community resources!

    I have always enjoyed a good debate and I think that is why I make a good architect. Not because I like to disagree with everyone (although that can be fun), but because I know I don’t have all the answers so I ask a lot of questions. This often leads to a good discussion and finding the best answer. It is not always a different answer than the one we started with, but sometime we stumble on a better solution that saves money, time, and resources.

  3. eddie godfrey Reply

    you are very passionate about your work, thats what helps you keep jobs, it’s hard to find anybody lately that enjoys their job. keep up the good work you’ll do fine. Hope all is good in your family, maybe we can have a family get together sometime. Talk to you soon. Eddie

  4. harrisonburg architect Reply


    I do love my job. Thanks for reading my blog! I would love to get together and see family I have not seen in many years!


  5. Maria Pinochet Reply

    Hi Charles,

    Good to see you are blogging about green design and building. I am still hard at work promoting the GREEN TRANSITION SCOREBOARD, http://www.greentransitionscoreboard.com/ and telling everyone how the shift is already HERE. 1.6 Trillion invested in the green economy since 2007.

    Keep up the good fight – there are many who will buy green as a matter of ethics. FEAR not in directly addressing the expectations and the concerns – after all you got in the door…so give them reasons to make you part of the local team!

    Best wishes,


  6. Paul Tangora Reply

    Charles, the bridges and networks you have built will no doubt bring the fruits of your labor. You are doing things the right way, have no doubt about that. Look forward to hearing of your many sucessful building projects.

    Paul Tangora

  7. harrisonburg architect Reply

    Maria and Paul,

    Thanks for your comments and for reading my blog!


  8. Patricia Ann Craft Hendricks Reply

    Way to go Charles. I always had faith in you and I will try to be more green!

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