Gaines Group Architects
Renovation Before Harrisonburg Depot

Today I start over…. as I seem to do everyday

Today I start over…. as I seem to do everyday

I have lost my blogging mojo. Maybe I have said everything I had to say or maybe this is just the break so many told me I needed to take from trying to do too  much. I have tried to write several posts over the last few weeks, but nothings seems to gel. So for now, here are some pictures I have taken over the last few weeks. If there are topics I can cover about architecture or building science that you think are interesting, let me know.

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The Park(let) Project is today. Want a park downtown, love green space? This event is for you.

The third annual Harrisonburg Park(let) project is taking place today. This event was created three years ago when a group of us got together to figure out how to bring an event downtown that encouraged more green spaces in an urban space, promoted interaction among citizens, and celebrated local artists. We based our idea on the now worldwide event started by Rebar in San Francisco called Park(ing) Day, which always happens on the third Friday in September.  The idea of transforming an urban area such as a parking space into a vibrant place for gathering and sharing ideas is ground breaking for some and other it should be done and permanent. In Harrisonburg we have great community, businesses, and lots of events downtown, but we lack informal places for gathering and green spaces. These types of spaces are vital to a healthy community and this event is our annual attempt to bring more awareness to their value. I hope someday we will have more park space downtown, perhaps a playground, and even more trees along our streets, but until then, I hope you will come and visit the park(let) projects that are being built today and will be open from 5pm – 8pm on court square.


Engaging our community in pictures

We believe strongly that it is our ethical duty to serve our local community. Here is a look at some of the ways we put our beliefs in action. How do you serve your community?

Celebrating a ribbon cutting of our rooftop garden

Promoting local events

Hosting local artists

Named the Best Architects in Harrisonburg

Celebrating 25 years in business

Hosting a coloring competition

Being featured in the Daily Progress newspaper

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visiting our design to tell the country this is how it should be done

Being recognized by Governor Kaine for our Green Design Efforts

Leading the Green Innovations Tour

Hosting green builder training sessions with partner Dow

Designing projects that form the backbone of our community

Engaging the next generation

Celebrating the Holidays

Participating in events to benefit the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank

Architecture cannot exist without function and beauty. DESIGN MATTERS.

Architecture is an interesting profession. You begin to notice things in your community that others overlook. You see inefficiencies that others simply accept as status-quo. The joy in our profession for me exists in the ability to design solutions, solve other people’s problems, and help them achieve their dreams. The downside is that everyone has an opinion about what you have done, what you should have done, and how they would do it better.

I sponsored the Harrisonburg Parklet Project with a strong desire to start a conversation about the importance of design in this community. In an agricultural community that was born out of people who are known for getting things done, no frills, and hard work, Architecture is often not a primary focus. This is not to say there are not beautiful design solutions in our community, but there are not many that marry both function and beauty. During the Harrisonburg Parklet Project there was a very obvious focus on beauty in some designs and function in other spaces. Those that wanted to design a beautiful space but did not invite people in became museum pieces that were hard to inhabit:

There were also those that focused on the function of the space and left the beauty to the work of the artists doing face painting.

There does not have to be a break between the two ideas. Beauty and function can coexist and should be in all projects for the betterment of the community. While the Parklets were all extremely successful and fun, I think these small installations are very much an indication of the larger community. We have accepted the idea that some buildings are just places that serve a function and have forgotten the importance of beauty, while others are focused on beauty and lack functional necessity to continue to be relevant. We as a community need and deserve more. We should all ask for a higher standard for our public and private buildings. Architecture cannot exist without function and beauty. DESIGN MATTERS. 

Harrisonburg Parklet Project – In Pictures

First step, find the best spaces

Next Advertise the event on social media and place community posters

Spaces reserved 24 hours in advance

Construction of the spaces

Parklets begin to take shape

Spaces open to the public

An incredible event with lots of foot traffic, conversations, and questions!

Harrisonburg Parklet Project – TODAY!


I am very excited to see the Harrisonburg Parklet Project take shape today in Downtown. At 1pm artist, residents, students, and professors are coming downtown to take over 13 parking spaces to create their visions of  green spaces the encourage unscripted social interaction, design, civic engagement, critical thinking, generosity, and play. The set up will be done by 5pm and open to the public. THIS IS GOING TO BE SO COOL!

So why do a project like this in Harrisonburg?

Green space are very important to the vitality of a community. We need spaces in an urban environment that allow us to breath. These spaces can filter rainwater, give a place to sit and read, a place to build community, and a place for conversation to happen. A healthy downtown needs small and large open spaces where gatherings can happen at various scales. Green spaces provide a refreshing contrast to the harsh shape, color, and texture of buildings alone, and stimulate the senses with their color, sound, smell, and motions. Green spaces foster a connection between community residents and the natural environment that surrounds them, thus allowing for a more livable city. This is essential in order for a community to be sustainable.

Green spaces provide habitat for a variety of birds, fish, animals, insects, and other organisms, while also providing corridors and greenways to link habitats. They prevent soil erosion and absorb rainwater, thereby improving drainage. Trees have been shown to absorb pollutants and reduce noise transfer. Green spaces and their inhabitants are a good indicator of overall ecological health of an ecosystem. This is an important measure in judging the ecological sustainability of the community.

In all walks of life, green space draws people outside and fosters social interaction. Studies have found that residents living near green common spaces have more social activities and more visitors. Green spaces promote safer neighborhoods. When residents have more vested interests in a place, their participation in the community increases and they will watch over the community to protect it. Green Spaces attract more customers for local businesses.

Green spaces are good and we need more of them in Harrisonburg. Design is a tool that can be used to design solutions that benefit the community if it is applied with a holistic vision about what downtown can become rather than just what a site can be today. I hope you will come downtown to the Parklet Project and continue the discussion about community with our artists, residents, students, and professors. If you see me, let me know what you think!


Design in the Valley – starting a conversation.

Design matters. Taking time out to develop the idea is an activity that should NOT be considered a luxury,but should be seen as a required planning tool that cannot be overlooked. In our fast paced society we look for solutions that are fast and simple. We don’t want things to be overly complicated. We simply don’t have time or energy for it.

So where does that leave design. Is it a luxury that only those with extra time and money can implement for their projects? Is it something that can be purchased in a magazine? Is it something the builder / creator can figure out as he goes along?

As a society we have allowed design to be put on the back burner . The “spec” market for housing is a booming industry with players that build the way they built last time no matter the lot conditions, the solar orientation, or the needs of the future home owner. Those purchasing these homes adapt their lives to the inefficiencies rather than having a home designed around their specific needs. Design solves these problems in the planning stage before you ever try to get dinner ready while watching the kids do their homework in the next room. Design creates healthy indoor air quality rather than homes that need to be cleaned on a weekly basis. Design creates solutions for problems you know need attention and problems you have not yet encountered. Design acknowledges the place, climate, community, and users abilities.

Our community has a “pull on your boots and get it done” kind of attitude. That attitude is why this valley was settled and survived. It was a rough area with lots of potential, dangerous, bountiful, and beautiful. The immigrants that survived in this area knew there was a need for hard work and quick solutions to life’s problems. There is nothing wrong with that heritage that has been handed down through the generations. However, we need to also infuse design into the conversation so that we can be efficient with our resources, make daily life a little easier, and continue to thrive in our valley.

On October 5th and 6th, a conversation about design in downtown will take the form of small parks, the size of parking spaces. Artists, community groups, students, and local residents will build these parking spaces into areas that promote conversation, engage community, and celebrate the act of design. These parks will be short-lived expressions of what our downtown could be in the future. Join us for the conversation, without you we will not have community, which is essential for successful design to matter.

Does Going Green Cost More? Nope!

Does green cost more? This is a question I get all the time from everyone. The answer is ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!!

Going green is a vague term that means lots of things to lots of people. For many it is simply energy-efficient strategies. Building a home that is energy-efficient is actually mandated by code, but hard to enforce. Most quality builders understand that just getting by is not a good business model and build better than code. Other strategies for going green are to use native plantings, using water conserving fixtures, No-VOC paints and caulk, and a well designed heating and cooling system.

Success Story

Thermal Image Camera

A few years ago I purchased a slightly better than code minimum house in the Valley. The insulation is fiberglass (can be done right, but it is really hard to make it work), the windows are vinyl (this is an area that I would encourage you to upgrade), and the Heating and Cooling system is minimal. We purchased the home with the goal of buying a house that would be easy to resell in three – five years while we got our feet on the ground from both my wife and I changing our jobs (she switched jobs and I changed roles in mine). We lived in the home for a year suffering through the high electric bills that come with a home-built to those standards. Then I decided to ‘fix’ the problems. I air sealed the home as best as I could without tearing out any drywall, removing any trim, or doing any major renovation. Basically I used a lot of DAP caulk in strategic places. Then I hired an expert, Elite Insulation, to come and do the work that I do not enjoy – strategic insulation. We doubled the attic insulation and air sealed using spray foam the bonus room above the garage. The total cost for my ‘upgrades’ was $1,500. I saved $500 in the next year on energy bills. So my investment had a three-year payback (in the same economy where every other investment was moving backwards this one was cash positive in three years). I also took advantage of the incentive programs that were available at the time which made my project a two-year payback, but those programs have expired so I will not spend time explaining them.

front porch

I realize that $1,500 is a lot of money to most people in this economy. That would feed a family for several weeks, keep your car on the road for several months, or get you a weekend away from the stress of life. However, if you look at the bigger picture, in two years (had we not sold the house) we would have had $500 more in our pocket every year to save for other things.

Going green is not about politics, it is not more expensive, and it is not complicated. It is simply finding people who have the knowledge to help you, looking at a bigger picture, and making strategic choices along the way.

For more thoughts on saving money, protecting the environment, and on architectural design visit my websites:

Sustainability defined – Because that is the way we always do it is not the answer!

As Thomas Jefferson said to James Madison in 1789, “The Earth belongs to the living. No man by natural right can oblige the lands he occupies to debts greater than those that may be paid during his own lifetime. Because if he could the world would belong to the dead.”


Sustainability is not a new concept, we as a country have been trying to find equilibrium since Jefferson and Madison. As a society we are in a constant struggle between want and need. The availability of ‘stuff’ has given everyone the opportunity to have more, do more, and use more without thought of the bigger impact of that choice. Prices do not reflect the actual cost of making many items and it is hard to find this information. We are faced now with staggering issues that need to be addressed. For instance, 106,000 aluminum cans are used in the United States every thirty seconds, 50% of those cans are NOT recycled. Making simple smarter choices would cut costs, preserve resources for the future, and provide the materials being demanded by society.

Academic Village

Sustainability is “Development that meets the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” – United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development

True sustainability is simply making choices today that will not impact the ability of your next generation and the generation after that from being able to make that same choice.  Recycling is not good enough, reuse is the answer. Preserving a few trees is not good enough, protecting forests is the answer. Conversation is not enough, Action is the answer!

Parade of Homes – Harrisonburg

The SVBA is presenting the 2011 Parade of Homes on October 22 – 23. Open house times on Saturday are 10 am – 4pm and Sunday 1 pm – 4pm. This annual event gives you a chance to see the latest innovations in home building, learn from the builders what it takes to build high performance, and to meet some of the innovators in the community. I encourage you to take time to visit a few of the homes in the parade this year.Your support of this event is very important for those taking time to prepare their homes for the parade and will go a long way of supporting the industry the is so key to our economic recovery.

We have an entry in this year’s parade in Crossroads Farm. The Connelly residence features a rainwater harvesting system, vegetative retaining walls, high performance insulation and Heating and Cooling system, and self-cleaning windows. Come out to see me at the house and I will be happy to answer questions, give you a tour, and talk about any building science questions you might have for your own home.

Crossroads Farm