Special/Signature Issues » The Arts 25

Green Giant

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Since founding Watershed, an architectural firm for ecologically responsible design projects, Patrick Farley has established himself as one of Richmond's most articulate and visible go-to guys for green design. "I've got a lot going on," he admits.

"What's exciting about our work is the notion that we have the ability to make buildings energy autonomous," Farley says. He's been developing plans for just those sorts of prefabricated dwellings on the Outer Banks this summer.

Farley, 41, is in demand these days as an architect, but he says it wasn't always the case. Although he's practiced architecture for 12 years, in 2001 he says he decided to "step beyond ecological and stewardship principles in my own work and become active. At that time I did feel isolated. The green building movement was not here."

But he and a number of sympathetic colleagues began meeting to share ideas. From this grew an impressive network of environmentally conscious people. The group now numbers 200 and meets regularly, often causally. "There's a great community here," Farley says, "a great cadre of fellow professionals and citizens."

Watershed's residential projects can be found in many Richmond neighborhoods -- all of them green — although it may not be outwardly apparent. There's a house on Kensington Avenue that hides its greenness behind a traditional appearance. In Woodland Heights, on the other hand, just blocks from the James River, a recently completed, contemporary dwelling is oriented for maximum solar effect with its deep overhangs and the capacity to develop a green (or planted) roof over the living room.

Farley, his wife and two sons live in what he says is the only net-metered house in Richmond. Their house actually produces excess electricity that's returned to Dominion Power. The Farleys get a credit on their energy bill.

So it's clear that Farley lives his design philosophy: "Conservation has got to come first," he says. "We can be easily seduced by new technologies, but conservation is the ultimate solution. There ought not to be any difference between good design and green design."

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