My first day at work for a small architectural firm, Raymond E. Gaines, Architect, in Charlottesville, Virginia was January 4, 1999. I have now been “in the profession” for 21 years.
I did not take a linear path to get here although I have been here a long time. I figured out early I loved design, but my brain did not love all the classes required outside of design. I earned a General Studies degree from Virginia Western Community College after high school. This was a time of growing up, exploring topics, struggling through classes that did not work well with how my brain functions, and working full-time. At the end of that path things were still not clear for my future. I was accepted into UVA’s architectural school as a transfer student, but had to complete a series of classes through the summer, while continuing to work full-time. I failed the final exam of the second history class – memorization is not my friend. I took the next semester to work two full-time jobs to pay some of the debt I had accumulated and figure out what was next in life. I enrolled in the adult program at UVA and passed the history class I had failed and one other architectural class while learning a new profession – line cook at The Virginian restaurant. I was only accepted into UVA’s Architectural School at the last minute when a student decided to change majors – thanks Cabell for the opportunity to continue my dream.
I made it through UVA but my design work never seemed to be enough. It seemed I was too practical to find success in the academic setting. The work I produced was buildable and functional and that was looked down upon by the critics during final presentations. I made it through, but the mental toll of being told you are not good enough for 3 years while working hard on your dream led me to give up on my dream of becoming an architect. I had worked full-time as a cook for most of those 3 years, but had changed to the world of retail sales and that was paying the bills. It was not my passion and I remember many days feeling very lost in the world.
I was recruited to replace an employee that was leaving for a job in Texas in late 1998. I interviewed with a small firm in Charlottesville. I did not own a suit that fit me and I did not have a portfolio of professional work. I had graduated almost 2 years prior and had not been exploring the world of design at all. I honestly have no idea why Ray offered me a job. Maybe I was the only person looking for work at the time. Maybe he wanted to give a chance to someone that had given up on their dream. I certainly did not have polished skills to bring to the table.
I showed up for work on January 4, 1999 wondering what the future would hold. Could I do this? What would I be doing? Did I know enough or would this be my last day?
I had no idea what this job would become. At the time we were doing mostly high end residential design for speculative builders. It was a great opportunity to learn how drawings were created that are clear, concise, correct, and complete. The beauty of the drawing was important not just the design it described. An understanding of the parts and pieces and how they fit together was the basis for a good design, sustainable design. I worked with Ray, Roger, and Woody in a small office learning, absorbing, making mistakes, listening (I never had headphones because I needed to hear what was going on around me). I loved designing solutions for clients. My passion for visual solutions that I discovered in seventh grade was put into a career.
In a time and industry where most people don’t stay with one firm for more than 3-5 years I have been here for 21. In fact, Ray and Roger have been together for over 30, Paul and Adrienne have been with us for more than 15 and Carla started the same year as me.
I have learned a lot in my time at the office. Loyalty, holistic thinking, sustainability, listening, hearing, patience, time management, life balance, aesthetics, balance, harmony, client relations, sales, marketing, building science, and design. I have built a reputation based on honesty and trust. I am proud of the work I have produced from the speculative homes to the custom homes, apartments to warehouses, offices to restaurants, schools to churches. I am very proud of the community building our work has done over the years. As a team, Gaines Group Architects has made a difference in many communities and that is a gift back to each one of us. On this 21st anniversary with the firm (I did leave for 1 1/2 for graduate school) I want to thank Ray for giving me a chance on this day in 1999. I also want to thank all those mentors along the way that made it possible for me to learn, grow, and become an architect. This is why I hold mentoring the next generation so high, without my mentors I would not be where I am today.