What do you want to be when you grow up?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

What do you want to be when you grow up? What a huge question that we ask students to answer at a point in their lives when they are just working on figuring out who they are at that moment.

Hosting high school students in our office has become a regular occurrence over the years. We believe that mentorship is not only a key component to the future of our industry, but simply put is the right thing to do. We want to help students figure out the right path to take before college, to answer the question What do you want to be when you grow up? Or at least what do you not want to be when you grow up. We have had students from a wide variety of high schools around the valley join us with some going on to architectural school and some finding out through their time in our office that architecture was not the right path for them. This year we hosted a student, Ryan, from Eastern Mennonite High School. (past job shadow blogs here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here)

Here is his story:

The question, ‘what do you plan to do after graduation?’ is really hard for a high school student to grasp as the scope of opportunities and jobs available to them is unknown. So for my junior year, I signed up for an internship at Gaines Group Architects. This is a 12-week internship (job shadow) where for about an hour and a half each day before heading to school I had a chance to be in their architectural office to see, hear, observe, and learn.

While most people would assume an architect’s job would be to design immediately on computers, Charles directed me through the thought process and the restrictions real life can play on a project. We looked online for a plot of land for sale and brainstormed our ‘client’ and their requirements. These things would play into my clients’ budget and restrictions on how I could design the house. For anything I wanted to design, I needed to justify value for the design decision. 

I was given the goal of making a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom, 1300 square foot house. This right off the bat was extremely difficult because a lot of the standard living sizes for several rooms would require more square feet than I was provided. Charles used this to help me realize that sometimes, customers might come in with unrealistic goals and it is our job to find the best compromise for them. This house is for a younger family with 2 kids so it needs to be large enough for the family but also big enough that they could resell it if/when they are ready to upgrade.

I learned several of the basic principles for designing a house from sketching to spending the first couple of weeks just designing and reiterating the house on paper. I learned how to draw different wall thicknesses and how to think reasonably space. By the end of the first month, I had completed a paper sketch of the house for my ‘client’ that was 1614 square ft.

I have always loved designing and creating new things with my hands or on online design programs, and drawing the house on paper was my favorite part of the process. The next step was for me to learn another design software, Trimble Sketchup

Trimble Sketchup is an online CAD software that allowed me to design the entire home on my Chromebook. This process is what I spent the last 9-10 weeks of the internship working on. I learned, experimented, and then implemented new and different building techniques into the house. I was able to import furniture and utilities to create a complete 3D model of what the house might look like if it was built in real life.

Hope in the Future of Sustainable Design

Hope in the Future of Sustainable Design

Charles has the pleasure of speaking about building science and sustainable design in a variety of venues and to diverse groups of people. His years of experience speaking on these topics has given him an insightful perspective on the future of sustainable design and building. Below, he shares his thoughts on the future and the hope he feels in the progress to be made.

Charles discussing sustainable design to a group at VMRC.

I have been on a “lecture circuit” discussing building science and sustainable design since 2005 when I designed what would become, one of the first LEED Certified homes in the country. Ray Gaines is the architect of record for that project and our entire team was part of the process. As I continue to learn more about sustainability including the economics of climate change, I evolve in the knowledge I am capable to share. However, the building science basics have not changed in all that time. We have seen tremendous progress in what we can achieve in energy efficiency and healthy indoor environments, new products have entered our market to make some things easier, and we have found more and more demand for healthy, energy-efficient, and durable design solutions. The only thing that remains constant is the building science. 

One of the key things to understand when talking about sustainable design comes from a phrase I heard many times while attending UVA to study architecture: “We have not learned how to be good, just less bad.” The inherent nature of creating places for us to live, work, play is that we have a negative impact on the environment that existed before we got there. We dig a hole, use chemicals, cut down trees, use valuable resources to create and define a space. Don’t get me wrong, we have come a very long way since I began learning about sustainable design. Our solutions today are tremendously better than what we were doing in 2000 or even in 2005 when we used LEED for Homes to measure our success. We have better products that are softer on the environment. Our buildings are even more energy efficient. We better understand how to minimize our carbon footprint. We know how to better manage site disturbance. However, at the end of the process we are still not creating healthy regenerative environments that benefit the overall environment. Ultimately, we continue being “less bad”.

I think there is certainly hope for a future where we can build regenerative environments to live, work, and play. I see glimpses of it now with clean energy installations, vegetative walls and roofs, and biophilic design strategies. I see our industry moving towards holistic design solutions that acknowledge our contribution to climate change and environmental degradation and a desire to fix our problems. The AIA code of ethics in fact demands that all architects take up this challenge and design better and more holistic solutions. Even the building code minimums that we see numerous buildings built to meet has embraced the need for energy-efficiency to our carbon emissions. 

While we have no shortage of challenges ahead, I see many that are rising to meet them. I see architects coming together to figure out best practices and understand building science. There are new products coming to market that embrace a healthier future, some will work, and some will not, but we have to test and experiment to find the right path. I see hope in the generations ahead and their desire to take on these challenges and solve some big problems in new, inclusive, and holistic ways. We are moving in the right direction, slowly, but we are still moving.

CSI National Conference

CSI National Conference

The Construction Specification Institute’s National Conference was recently held in Denver, Colorado where Ray Gaines had the opportunity to attend this year’s event. It was a week filled with learning, connecting with fellow industry professionals, and visiting with old friends.

Ray CSI Fellowship
Ray being presented with Fellowship in 2009

Ray, a founding member of Central Virginia CSI Chapter, has been an active participant in the association since 1988. He has served in a variety of positions in the local, regional and institute level in an effort to improve communications across the industry – the main focus of CSI. Awarded Fellowship in the association, Ray is known for his passion for helping others through mentorship and leadership. He is a regular attendee of the CSI conference and has said that CSI relationships allow him to do his job better. Charles has been active in CSI since 2003 at the local, regional, and institute level as well. In fact, he was awarded the Andrew Drozda award back in 2009 for “setting a standard for what an Emerging Professional can and should do.” It is no surprise that others in the firm are following his example. Adrienne, Deborah, and Paul are all also current members of Central Virginia CSI.

Building a Stronger Community.

Building a Stronger Community.

We hold to our belief that it requires action, time, and energy to build a stronger, more vibrant community. Community has many scales and our collective actions create a ripple effect. Last week Charles had a full schedule of events and he was reminded of the value each of us plays in serving our community. He attended his regular Tuesday morning Rotary Club of Rockingham County meeting which focused on Polio vaccinations around the world. This terrible disease is very close to eradication but simultaneously on the brink of another worldwide outbreak. The work of Rotarians to raise awareness, money, and to take action has made a significant difference with now only two countries in the world reporting wild Polio cases. As an aside, there has been a minor outbreak in a small community in New York, but it is not reported as a wild outbreak. These cases in New York remind everyone of the critical importance of vaccinations.

Mary Baldwin University

After Rotary, Charles headed South to Mary Baldwin University to talk sustainability with business majors. The first class he participated in consisted of freshman students who were eager to discuss and learn how an architect applies sustainability to their work. The excellent conversation and questions showed these students have deep desires to understand the impacts business has on the environment how they can be a part of creating a better future for everyone. The second class was a small group of students who have a primary focus and deep understanding of sustainability in business. The conversation was focused on how to build a sustainable business using the three principles of sustainability; people, planet, and profit.

Charles hit the road after meeting with the MBU students and went directly to Eastern Mennonite School for a second day of teaching Sketch Up and floor plan creation to high school students. The class is tasked with designing a 900 square foot house with 1 bedroom and 1 bathroom as a tool to learn this software and create three dimensional spaces.

To round out his day of service, Charles participated in a spirit night that he helped organize at Harmony Square Dairy Queen. Named “Pints for Polio” this twist on a traditional fundraiser is an annual event that raises Polio awareness in a family0friendly environment.

Not all of our days can be this jam-packed with community service, but is not lost on us how it takes many hands and willing hearts to intentionally build a better, stronger, more vibrant community.

“Mind Behind the Design” featuring Deborah Smith

“Mind Behind the Design” featuring Deborah Smith

It’s time to discover another great mind behind the design and today we are excited to feature team architect, Deborah Smith. Deborah is no stranger to setting BIG goals for herself and is a tremendous support to others in her role as an architect and as a servant leader in the community.

Originally raised on a sheep farm in Rockingham County, she naturally gravitated towards hobbies involving drawing, combing through house plans, watching HGTV, and solving puzzles. She has a remarkable green thumb from helping in the garden during her childhood and originally thought this would lend well to a career in landscape architecture. It wasn’t until she visited Virginia Tech and wandered through the hallways of the architectural school that her dream of pursuing architecture was realized. Seeing the architecture studios through its pyramid skylights and feeling the creativity exuding from the desks covered in drawings and 3D models set her on a path that would become her very successful career. Looking back at this inspirational visit, she didn’t know at the time just how much work would be involved to achieve her goals, but this memory stands out as a big influence in her journey.

After a rigorous 5 years of studying at the Virginia Tech School of Architecture and Design, Deborah graduated and joined the Gaines Group in 2012. She dove into working at the firm headfirst and was the single employee working with Charles in the Harrisonburg office for the first few years. After one year of working at the firm, Deborah knew this was the path for her and set the goal to eventually tackle the architecture licensing examination process to become a registered architect. Because she likes an added challenge and she was curious about the innerworkings of running a small business, Deborah started an MBA program at Eastern Mennonite University while working full time at the firm. Years of hard work paid off when she received her MBA in 2016 and passed her final architectural licensing exam in 2018 to finally be able to call herself Deborah Smith, Registered Architect.

Deborah’s years of experience and education provide a great depth and level of detail to each project she works on. There are parts of each project she enjoys, but she especially appreciates working on adaptive reuse projects in which older buildings are brought back to life for new purposes. These types of projects require a lot of problem-solving during the design and construction process to either make an existing building fit the new use or to expand an existing building to serve a growing organization. Addition and renovation projects are also some of her most memorable projects, especially if it is a historical building! Our office building (the Depot), Eastern Mennonite Elementary School, Deering Hall, and the Blue Ridge Area Foodbank are just a few of her favorite projects to date.

Outside of her life as an architect, Deborah has a dedication to serving the greater community. While studying at Virginia Tech, she served on the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad which is the oldest collegiate student-run, student-led, all-volunteer rescue agency in the country. Currently, she continues to make a big impact in the community by serving as the president of Harrisonburg Women’s Service League; which is committed to supporting women and children in the community through volunteering time and fundraising for local nonprofits. She also recently graduated from the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce Leadership Program in which she worked with colleagues to open a pop-up shop providing business and interview clothing to anyone in need, free of charge.

When Deborah isn’t working hard in the studio or volunteering in the community, she loves spending her time reading, gardening, painting, drawing, traveling, and attending the many wonderful community events that happen throughout the year (Red Wing Music Festival being a favorite!) She has a special love for animals and welcomes many rescue animals into her home through fostering and adoption.

Whether it’s setting big goals, serving the community, harnessing her creativity, or having a soft spot for animals in need, Deborah is a team player who makes an impact wherever she lands.

Deborah Graduates from LHR Program

Deborah Graduates from LHR Program

Deborah receiving her certificate upon completion of the program.

Gaines Group Architects has a graduate to celebrate! Congratulations to Deborah on her recent
graduation from the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber Leadership Program! This ten-month
leadership program is designed for participants to learn about our community’s past, present, and
future all while building valuable relationships. Deborah was accepted into this program in the summer
of 2021. She attended monthly community-based meetings that educated her on our community’s
strengths and future growth opportunities.


Deborah is a self-proclaimed introvert, and we are proud of her willingness to step out of her comfort
zone and participate in this program that required her to regularly engage in a large group setting. She
reflected on her experience and greatly appreciates the opportunity to participate in this program
saying it has been “a wonderful experience.” She believes the program did a great job of going beyond
typical speed networking events (which tend to be difficult for an introvert). Deborah appreciated the
opportunity to connect with others on a deeper level during each session while simultaneously learning
more about our community. She specifically enjoyed being able to hear from the community, non-profit,
educational, public safety, and local government leaders who gave her a new understanding of what it
takes for a community to sustain itself and evolve with the times.


In addition to the monthly leadership sessions, Deborah’s cohort worked together on a community
service project of their choosing. Her group opened a “pop-up” shop called First Impressions that
provided an opportunity for the public to pick out professional clothes for an interview or job transition.
Their group collected professional clothes and welcomed anyone to shop, free of charge. It was a
valuable experience for Deborah and her colleagues to work collaboratively on an impactful community
event after spending significant time together.


Overall, this program is a wonderful experience to engage with our community and build relationships.
Gaines Group Architects’ team member Annie Frazier also participated in the same program and is a
graduate of the 2017 cohort. If you are interested in learning more about our community and building
new relationships, we encourage you to check out the program here.