Ron Wolfe, 38 

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Architect, SMBW Architects

Ron Wolfe had spent his youth in Northern Virginia and overseas, and after college he headed for a career in international development. "But I came to the realization that I wasn't doing what I wanted to do," he says. "In government there are so many intangible things."

So Wolfe shifted focus, graduating from University of Virginia's school of architecture. In the design field, he says, "you can really see the tangible effects of your creative efforts. An undercurrent of architecture is that it is the physical manifestation of a community's cultural values."

At SMBW Architects, Wolfe's projects address a range of human needs and experiences. He's designing an innovative facility for Charlottesville's Boys and Girls Club. And he's especially proud of his involvement in a 110-acre memorial park in Salem, Belvedere Gardens, which overlooks the Appalachians. He believes the melding of landscape and structure there provides a cemetery experience not with dread, but more as the reflective and parklike spaces they were in the 19th century.

Wolfe is also the only architect on Richmond Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity's housing task force. And he makes weekly visits and weekend excursions with a disadvantaged fifth-grader at Westover Hills Elementary, someone he's worked with since kindergarten. "He is very smart but needs somebody to encourage him," Wolfe says. "If nothing more, just the consistency of my showing up for lunch regularly is a good thing. Consistency is what is lacking in his life."

As for local architecture, Wolfe says that while Richmond is wedded to the 19th and 20th centuries, "we must develop an architecture that looks backwards and forward." Forward is the operative word, he says: "How to crack that nut, that's the central challenge."

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