Gaines Group Architects

The most valuable resource in the construction industry are those in the industry helping others

As I wrote last week, the biggest challenge we face in our industry is “no design.” Buildings that do not address climate, culture, or context will tear apart of community if allowed to proliferate a geographic region. Your community could become a nondescript wasteland with no identity.


We need the built environment to reflect our values and beliefs. So how do we take on this huge burden of designing a future with which our society will be shaped? We can only do it if we know the best practices and information available. We can only do it acting as a cohesive community of designers, builders, engineers, and product suppliers. We can only do it together as a profession.

Timberlake 9.4.13 005

One of my biggest sources of professional resources is the Construction Specifications Institute. Through this one organization I have met many of the best in the industry. A short list of those that give me support and inspiration are Kait Solomon, Joy Davis, Hagerco, Paul Gerber, Marvin Kemp, Cherise Schacter, Ray Gaines, Thad Goodman, Ginny Powell, Lori Greene, Mitch Miller, David Stutzman, Ellen Onstad, Eric Lussier, Sheldon Wolfe, Liz Sullivan, DuWayne Baird, Rietta McCain, Vivian Volz, Gary Beimers, Andy McIntyre, Sheryl Dodd-Hansen, Brian Trimble, LeeAnn Slattery, and Randy Nichimura.


The biggest competition in the architectural profession is “no design.”

The architectural industry is an interesting one (and the only one I really know, so probably not unlike any others) in that as architects we compete for a very small pool of projects against each other, but we all rely on each other to promote the industry as a whole. The biggest competition for an architect is “no design” and boy does that happen a lot! Many don’t know what we (architects) do, don’t understand our value, or simply think they cannot afford to hire an architect.


I spend a lot of time promoting the idea of design. I know it brings me opportunities, because my clients have told me they want good design. I know it benefits our industry because it brings awareness to the idea of design and therefore it helps other architects. It is important to me that everyone understand the value added to having good design for the built environment as it impacts our community, our daily life, and our future. Here are some folks in our industry that are doing way more than I could ever do and having a tremendous impact on our world.

Studio MM promotes good design by promoting other architects. Marica posts a different architect’s work on her social media pages every week showing off design that she loves that is done by others. This is an incredibly generous gift to give that other architect, but also a wonderful way to share her love of design with her potential clients.


I am forever grateful to Cherise Schacter for her constant and overwhelming support of our industry on social media. Cherise is an incredible person / professional / Kraken that tirelessly promotes excellence in the design industry. I am not sure how she manages to keep up with all of the relationships she has built on SM and in person, but she does it with passion. Her work to promote the design industry is helping us all.


Joshua Lloyd works hard to teach others about sustainable residential design. This is a huge help to those of us focused on green design. First his work helps me know better the right solutions for my clients and second he is promoting a similar message so potential clients hear it from multiple sources. I have heard from many other design firms that don’t believe SM is important for our industry, I think Joshua is showing that it is very important.


Bob Borson created a series that is geared to show what we do as architects. The #ArchiTalks series includes some of the best architectural thinkers of our time! I know I have learned from these posts and it is certainly promoting our industry in a positive manner. Bob specifically brings the profession down to a human scale by showing the life of an architect from Christmas lists, to moving into a new office, to helping the next generation understand the industry.His approach to outreach is informal, fun, and inviting. This is how you promote an industry in a positive manner.


I keep coming up short daily in reaching my goals

I am an environmentalist. I work daily to help others understand how they can create buildings that are healthy, energy-efficient, and durable. I give lectures about indoor air quality. I advocate for buying local through social media. I recycle, grow produce in our garden, turn off lights not in use, and drive a gas efficient car. I don’t do enough.


This past Sunday at church the sermon was focused on the global community as brothers and sisters. The idea that 2.18 billion Christians live around the world is overwhelming. The thought that each of them could love God’s creation and want to take care of it is humbling. As Pope Benedict XVI says “If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation.” However, I am guilty myself of not doing enough every day to care for God’s creation. For instance, each morning I walk from the parking lot to my office I pass by trash in the parking lot that will be washed into downtown streams in the next rain. I still use fossil fuel based fuels in my home and office instead of safer and healthier alternative energy options. In other words, there is much work to be done in my life to truly care for God’s creation.

I wonder what other Christians are doing and as a global community what impact we are making? Does your church have a creation care committee? Does your church have an environmental impact statement? What do you do daily to care for creation?


Living a life on purpose as an architect #VBKeynote recap

Valley Business Keynote (#VBKeynote) was an incredible event this year with a focus on living your life on purpose, doing what you love, and loving others in your life. 


Valley Business Keynote is an annual event that facilitates engaging ideas for local leaders to help fulfill the Valley’s vast potential. This year’s event featured Mark Fernandes, Chief Leadership Officer with the Luck Companies in Goochland, VA. He discussed how leaders should impact others in a positive way through igniting their potential. He said that leaders have to be intentional about their actions in order to set the culture they want – in every word spoken and action executed.

“Life is about choices, the culture of your business is a shadow of the leader.”

Mark says that leaders need to get up each day and think about how to build the environment they want in their company. Not only how they act and what they say, but how the company acts as a whole to make positive meaning in the lives of others. Mark told us that he believes everyone has a mission in life that they, given the right opportunities, will fulfill. As a leader it is your job to build the right environment to provide those opportunities for everyone encountered to fulfill the potential they have inside of them.


Three big rules to follow to be a great leader:

1. Love your associates with all your heart

2. Give them something to believe in

3. Obsess about their future

I believe we all struggle finding out voices, trusting our hearts, and fulfilling our potential. The encouragement that Mark shared with 400+ people in the room to “have the life you want by being present in the life you have” was a powerful message. If we took it to heart and extended grace to each other just imagine the beauty we would find in our valley! I am looking forward to seeing these ideas grow and spread throughout the valley and to next year’s #VBKeynote.


Why build a ZEB Middle School in Harrisonburg.

As of 2010, according to National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), there are almost 99,000 public K-12 schools in America. In 1999 (the most recent data available), the average public school building in the U.S. was 42 years old. We build our public building, particularly schools, to last a long time.  Building to only meet the current code (the absolute worst possible building you can build by law) is a short-sighted approach to the health of our community. Our building codes are updated and most often strengthened every three years in the Commonwealth of Virginia. So why not try to build a building that will perform better than code over the next 50 years.

A Zero-Energy building was once a very expensive proposition that was only achieved by very few specifically using alternative energy. Now with the costs of traditional energy sources going up, alternative energy technology reducing, and building science understanding becoming mainstream, zero-energy buildings are very achievable.  This approach to school construction acknowledges the need for a holistic long-term building solution that sets an example for the children attending the school. A Zero Energy Building solution shows the community that our leaders care about future costs to run a facility, tax burdens imposed on community members, and the health of our environment. More important, it shows that our community cares deeply for our children and their future.

The benefits of a Zero-energy school are many including:

1. Reduced energy costs

2. Material efficiency (comes from understanding building science and efficient thermal envelope)

3. Increased economic benefits (alternative energy, building science, and service jobs)

4. Thermal Comfort (better thermal envelope reduced energy required and increases comfort inside)

5. Indoor Environmental Quality (natural light goes hand in hand with this approach to design)

6. Indoor Air Quality (better building construction provides better air quality)

7. Increased attendance (many studies have shown a better indoor environment resulting from high performance construction improves the health of those using the building)

8. Improved Student Performance (better attendance, better indoor environment, better performance)

9. Leadership (demonstrated leadership in the community through building better)

10. Enhanced Educational Opportunities (high performance solutions provides many opportunities to teach the next generation)

Construct Nashville – The CSI Show Recap

Construct ShowConstruct has come and gone again. Each year as I build my network through CSI the show becomes even more valuable to me. I have the opportunity to reconnect with industry leaders, meet emerging experts, and get a glimpse into the most innovative products available in the building industry. For those new to Construct, it is the one convention in the industry that brings together people from all disciplines (owners, building managers, architects, engineers, product representatives, landscape architects, lawyers, facility managers….) within the construction industry to one place to share ideas, best practices, and knowledge.
The evolution of CSI over recent years has gone from an organization searching for its role in the industry to an organization leading the industry in building technology information. This has translated into a very important conference for any industry leader involved with high performance building solutions to attend. The power of CSI membership and conference attendance is unmistakable to me as I have posted in the past (here, here, here, here, and here).


I did not give a formal presentation at this year’s show as in the past, but was asked to participate in an informal panel discussion on blogging. This session is a good example of how CSI staff works hard to support the members and help them find individual success. The focus of the panel discussion was to share how we do it, how you can do it, and how to be better at doing it (blogging).  I cannot say enough about how much the staff means to me in this organization. On a national level I personally know more than half of the employed staff members, consider them friends, and know they are working hard for me. This compared to other organizations where I rarely have a name of a person to call, much less a personal connection, the value of CSI membership is clear.
CSI helps build members success and in return, members help members, and members work tirelessly to support CSI.
Education sessions, product expo, meeting discussions, networking, conversations, and of course lots of FUN take place each year at Construct. This year was no exception of course. The social media crowd has grown to be very vibrant reaching over 2 million impressions on Twitter alone. The show next year will be in Baltimore in early September. If you missed this year, I highly encourage you to attend next year. If you are not ready to jump in the big pond of CSI, think about joining the regional leaders at their conference, or at least get involved in the chapter level and attend monthly meetings. The power and energy you will see from other members that want you to be successful will be awe-inspiring if you take the time to engage, volunteer, and ask for help.
Here are some pics from the event.
Nashville CSICSI LeadersCSI LeadersRay GainesCSI StaffConstruct Show

Labor Day 2013 – Architecture: An industry in recovery

To be successful, you have to have your heart in your business, and your business in your heart.” – Sr. Thomas Watson

Becoming an architect takes a huge commitment, unrelenting passion, and of course lots of time and money. It can be a rewarding career if you are able to sustain your energy long enough to get through all the hurdles. I did, made it through all the obstacles, achieved licensure, and then became a partner in a firm. My career goal of owning my own architectural practice had been achieved. Then the bottom fell out of the economy. A complete and total melt down, the likes of which has never been experienced in my lifetime.

Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” ~ Confucious

Like most small architectural firms, we (The Gaines Group) are more of a family than a traditional business. We have three partners of which I am the youngest. We decided at the start of the financial melt down not to let anyone go – once again, we are more like a family than a business. So lets say, the past five years have been extremely difficult financially for us. We expanded our staff to better serve our clients, opened a second office (Harrisonburg) to serve a wider demographic, and moved into a new office space in Charlottesville that is better reflective of our current design values. We survived! We are ready!


The economy is coming back and we have a deep and talented staff ready for the work. The ABI (architectural billing index) is showing signs of sustained growth. The worst of the economic collapse is over. So as you celebrate labor day, we join you. On this day dedicated to the social and economic achievements of the American worker, we salute those that have stood by us in tough economic times. We thank our team, friends, and family for sticking together over the last five years so that we can build a successful future. It has not been easy and probably will not be easy for years to come. Today is a day to celebrate what we have been able to achieve by working together and trusting in each other.

Happy Labor Day!


Get to know “Jill Koeppen, Photographer Extraordinaire” Friday Featured Local Business

jill_picGive us some background on your company. What do you do and why do you do it?

Jill Koeppen Photography offers on-location portrait photography based on my clients’ photography needs. Living in the beautiful Shenandoah allows me to take advantage of the outdoors as my studio, using natural light for my photo sessions. I specialize in many types of portraits – from maternity photographs, to children, to families, to professionals looking for a great head and shoulders 13

While I offer my clients photos in both black and white and color, I admit I have a soft place in my heart for black and white. Portraits are so timeless and classic in black and white.

blog 10What I love about my business is that I can tailor the photo session to suit the personality of the client. If a client tells me that their favorite family activity is to go trout fishing, we head off to a gorgeous trout stream. I’ve done a mountain biking session in the woods with a very active family. Some clients prefer to stay in their back yard or on their front porch, and that is fine too. Photos from a session where the client is having a great time in a relaxed environment reflect an honest insight into that person.

I travel to my clients who live throughout the valley. Sometimes I even get to enjoy photo sessions on the beach where my family lives in the Tidewater area.

Give a brief summary of what your company does and who you are as a company.

I have been intrigued by photography since I was in my early teenage years. As a student at James Madison University, I studied photography and mentored under two amazing JMU staff photographers, Tommy Thompson and Diane Elliott. At the university, I photographed a wide range of university activities including sports events, ribbon cuttings, and even student life during the studies abroad program. Following college, I spent some years working in public relations and 11

blog8After years of photographic exploration, I discovered what I enjoyed most was capturing a portrait of a loved one that would be cherished for years to come.  In 2006, I opened Jill Koeppen Photography.

Getting to know my clients is one of my favorite aspects of my job. I feel very honored that they choose me to peer into their lives with my camera. I know sometimes it doesn’t feel so comfortable being in front of the lens, so I try to make the photo session fun and relaxed by talking and joking around. With kids, the joking around may even lead to some spastic dancing on my part to solicit a giggle or two. Parents, I apologize in advance if you witness that!blog 14

blog 3I work closely with my clients to get to know their personality and their goals before the photo shoot so that I am sure we all walk away feeling confident that we were able to achieve an end result the client will absolutely love. There is no feeling better than a client who gushes about the photos I took!

Do you have an ideal client? If so, what do they look like?

My ideal client has a goal in mind, but is also willing to try some different things and be flexible during a shoot in order to get a photo that pleases everyone. Working outside means that I have to constantly reassess if the light is tricky or the weather doesn’t cooperate. I love clients who don’t mind going to plan b if necessary. Who knows… plan b might even lead to an incredible photo.blog4

What is your favorite success story in the past few years?

The story that sticks out the most in my mind is a client who called me to say she had just been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer.  Her future was uncertain and she wanted to have a family photo taken right away before she started her chemo treatments. We held her family photo session beside a small river and she was thrilled with the photos. I’m so happy to say that today she is cancer-free!

blog 12What do you like to do for fun? Favorite restaurant? Favorite place to spend a Saturday afternoon?

When I am not working, I spend my time with my husband, Jeff, and my daughters, Claire, 13, and Ellie, 10. We like to hike together at Big Meadows and other trails on Skyline Drive during the warmer months. Big Meadows has the most amazing light and I adore taking photos there in the tall summer grass.

We cook at home a lot since three of us are vegetarians. I love making homemade bread and homemade pizzas. As far as restaurants, my family loves ethnic food. When we go out, Thai Flavor and A Bowl of Good are favorites.

blog9What is on your (iPod, radio, phone) while you work?

When I edit my photos, I enjoy listening to Pandora because I can tune into some of my favorites like Mumford and Sons, Of Monsters and Men, or 5

What is your favorite book?

Historical fiction is always intriguing to me. I just finished reading World Without End by Ken Follett. Delving into medieval history gave me a keen appreciation of the modern conveniences we enjoy today.

 Where is your favorite place to vacation? 

Our favorite family vacation was to Providenciales, Turks and Caicos. I’ve never seen water as turquoise blue as the water is on Grace Bay. It was so interesting to see the pirate treasure maps carved into the cliffs there.

Our vacation this year will be spent exploring Quebec where we hope to learn more about our Canadian neighbors while eating our fill of French pastries!blog 7

What historical figure would you most like to have dinner with and why?

Sitting down to an Italian dinner of pasta and red wine with Michelangelo would make for an incredible evening. It is fascinating that someone can bring a piece of marble to life like he did. I would love to hear about life during the Renaissance in Italy.

blog6You can find more information on Jill Koeppen Photography on facebook at Jill Koeppen Photography or online at Call 540-560-4591.

Want to be an Industry Leader? Get CSI Certified!

I have posted on the topic of CSI in the past, and with another Certification Exam deadline looming, it is time to do it again. In the construction industry, it is easy to put your head down and try to avoid problems by showing up on time, doing what is expected, and performing to the best of your ability. The problem is, as I have heard it so many times – “CONSTRUCTION HAPPENS!” What do you do when just doing what you ‘thought’ was expected is not what was actually expected? What do you do when your interpretation of the documents is not the owner’s interpretation? How do you show potential clients that you understand how the process works and that you are a leader in the industry that deserves the opportunity? One good way is by earning certifications through the Construction Specifications Institute.


I am a “Certified Construction Technologist.” This is the first step in the CSI certification ladder. In the competitive economy that we face, I find that we have to prove ourselves time and again that we understand the construction process. CSI’s professional qualifications do just that for you. CDT (Construction Document Technologist exam) is the “foundation you need to gain the competitive advantage” you need in today’s economy.

I encourage you to take the step and register for the CDT exam today. I can tell you it has benefited my career growth, allowed me to solve problems before they became big problems, and has saved my clients money.


A team approach leads to successful construction projects.

Buildings are more complicated now than they have ever been in history. Your home is the most complex and interconnected machine that you own. In order to achieve a high performance home (healthy, energy-efficient, and durable) you need a team working together towards a common goal.

 So, is there really friction between the architect and builder as presented in this article?


An Architect is trained to plan and design buildings, and oversees their construction. At least that is what architects used to do before giving up many of their duties in the process to other experts.  At one time the Architect was the Master Builder that handled everything including structural design, aesthetics, function, and construction. Today the modern iteration of the architect is often relegated to code compliance and aesthetic solutions. In general, I don’t believe this is a bad thing for the client, although I would add building science, product selection, indoor air quality, and function of the space to the architect’s role.


Again, Buildings are more complicated now than they have ever been in history. It takes an integrated team to pull all the pieces together in a comprehensive, comfortable, user-friendly, efficient, and functional whole. We often work with builders during the design process that can consult on best practices, costs, schedule, and material availability in order to produce the best design solution for a client. In turn, the builder often prefers the architect be involved during construction to keep an eye on design intent and code compliance issues. While I would love to be the Master Builder again, I don’t think it is possible to deliver the highest possible quality solution to a client without having experts on the team from both the design and execution side of the process. Creating a balanced approach such as this and having a team mentality will eliminate tension and lead to successful projects. As our friends at BuilderFish always remind us: “planning from a collaborative approach saves money and time as all the primary players know and understand the process. This eliminates excuses like “I wish I had known.” Good planning on the front end with the entire team more than pays for itself and makes the construction process glide smoothly instead of bumping along.”

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