Special/Signature Issues » Top 40 Under 40

John L. O'Neill, 34

Founding President, Thinkhaus Design

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When John O'Neill became interested in design in high school, he knew it was the career he wanted to pursue.

Today he's founding president of Thinkhaus Design, specializing in serving the nonprofit and green building industries. O'Neill also has served as a volunteer adviser to Family Lifeline of Richmond, the Conciliation Project of Richmond and the James River Green Building Council.

“To me, it's good for a design to be as direct and simple as it can be,” he says. “Design really needs to have a purpose. Everything I do has a reason.”

He also sponsors a monthly forum at which Richmonders can socialize and learn about local issues and the contributions made to society by good design work. And a few years ago, Virginia Commonwealth University hired O'Neill as adjunct professor to teach sophomore courses in design.

All of this would be impressive alone, but O'Neill has faced more challenges than most, considering that he suffers from cerebral palsy.

John DeMao Jr., interim chair at the university's department of design, says that O'Neill is exceptionally hard-working and seems to have found his mission. “He is sensitive to the needs of others and possessed of an acute awareness of the power and necessity of design to energize positive social and environmental change,” he says.

O'Neill credits others who had an effect on him — especially his parents. “I just hope that my success shows that people with disabilities can be accepted in the mainstream of society and have an impact,” he says.

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