HOT SEAT- Will's way: The life of Rieley
Will Rieley has put his fingerprints on much in Virginia that is historic– or will be. But he doesn't want to be known for a trademark look.
When people enjoy the Thomas Jefferson Parkway, Montpelier, or Stratford Hall, "I hope they say it's a wonderful space– not that it's a Rieley design," he demurs.
As landscape architect for the Garden Club of Virginia for the past eight years, Rieley gets dibs on choice restoration projects at Virginia's historic landmarks such as the Pavilion Gardens at UVA, the Governor's Mansion, and that Williamsburg icon of stately simplicity, Bruton Parish Church.
He also has been chosen for projects that could make him the Frederick Law Olmsted of Albemarle County: the much-lauded Thomas Jefferson Parkway and trail and the controversial Meadowcreek Parkway.
One option Rieley suggested for the latter was to do nothing. "It's always an alternative," he says, but one that doesn't often appear when experts are commissioned.
"I had lots of qualms about Meadowcreek," he admits. "We were helpful in putting out substantive alternatives that could be evaluated without underlying prejudice. I'm most proud we ended up with our credibility intact with both proponents and opponents."
The Roanoke Valley-born Rieley started out as an architect in the Hudson River Valley with its "wonderfully rich landscape architecture heritage."
He found himself "increasingly more interested in historic preservation and the spaces between than in the houses themselves," he says.
Ben Howland, "a seminal figure" in landscape architecture, and Dean of Architecture Harry Porter drew Rieley to graduate school at UVA.
"I picked up a few small jobs in grad school, and before I knew it, I was renting office space and getting a business license," says Rieley, whose Rieley and Associates is now housed in an old grocery warehouse, the King building on Water Street.
"We specialize in historic preservation and park work," he explains, "and road design, which most landscape architects do little of."
And Rieley picks flowerbeds in highway medians as an overused landscape architectural cliché.
Oh, and don't confuse landscape architects with landscapers. "It's a burden all landscape architects bear," he says. "People ask what's wrong with their boxwoods... I'm not a gardener."
After eight years, he's attended his last meeting as a member of Albemarle's Planning Commission, and he just had lunch with his successor, Eric Strucko, whom Rieley is confident will continue his mission to protect rural areas and stave off sprawl.
He calls the late 1990s Commission vote favoring a Mountain Protection Ordinance one of the most emotional taken during his tenure on the commission.
"I think we made a mistake– not in substance, but in form when the Mountain Protection Ordinance came before us," he says. "We had hundreds of people come to the podium to speak. Then we took action and passed it unanimously. It left a feeling we already had our minds made up. In retrospect, we would have been much better to take the comments, digest them for a couple weeks, and then vote."
(The Board of Supervisors never voted on the ordinance.)
What sort of habitat surrounds a preeminent landscape architect? "I live in an old farmhouse that's essentially neglected," he laughs. "It's the quintessential cobbler with shoeless children."
Age: I kind of lose track– 50 or 60, I think.
Why here? I'm too lazy to move.
What's worst about living here? Hearing a nice southern college town incessantly and preposterously referred to as a "world-class city"
Favorite hangout? A wonderful trout stream somewhere west of here. (If I got more specific, it wouldn't be wonderful anymore.)
Most overrated virtue? Tact. I have nothing against being polite, of course, but some people are so tactful you can't figure out what they're talking about.
People would be surprised to know: I was at Woodstock.
What would you change about yourself? I would grow a slightly longer fuse.
Proudest accomplishment? Serving eight years on the Albemarle County Planning Commission without throwing anyone out of the window (or getting thrown out of the window myself)
People find most annoying about you: I am accused of being a perfectionist a trait my friends and family say makes me a pain in the neck and general menace to society.
Whom do you admire? Among my personal acquaintances, the late Ben Howland, who was in many ways the quintessential public servant. He was a Marine, a great National Park Service landscape architect, and an inspirational professor at UVA.
Favorite book? Brunelleschi's Dome
Biggest 21st-century thrill? Satellite radio
Biggest 21st-century creep out? Suburban sprawl
What do you drive? An old Jeep with more than 400,000 miles on it
In your car CD player right now: CD players hadn't been invented when my Jeep was made.
Next journey? I would love to go visit my daughter Margaret, who's studying in Peru this spring.
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? When I was about 20, I had to spend the night in jail in Eniat, Washington, for speeding. The fine was $40, and I couldn't come up with it.
Regret: I wasn't born with the voice and talent to sing the lead in the Mikado.
Favorite comfort food: Giblet gravy
Always in your refrigerator: V8
Must-see TV: Imus in the Morning
Describe a perfect day. Air temperature 79, water temperature 75– and small-mouth bass biting
Walter Mitty fantasy: Hitting the three-pointer that wins the ACC tournament championship for the 'Hoos over Duke
Who'd play you in the movie? Walter Brennan
Most embarrassing moment? I have a wonderful ability to forget my many agonizingly embarrassing moments.
Best advice you ever got? Most people will quickly forget what you say to them, but they will always remember how you made them feel.
Favorite bumper sticker? Cheney/Satan '08
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO