2021 Architecture Firm Award

Every year, the AIA recognizes one firm that has produced notable architecture for at least a decade.

For Moody Nolan, diversity has been at the core of the firm’s philosophy since its founding. Much greater than a recruitment plan, the firm’s complete embrace of talent that hails from diverse cultures, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds allows it to nimbly address complex problems through its staff’s myriad points of view. The nation’s largest African American-owned and operated design firm, it has a long history of serving clients with its trademark navigation of cultural sensitivities and keen understanding of the impact its work has on individuals and communities.

As a young man, Curt Moody, FAIA, NOMA, was regularly challenged by those who did not see architecture as a viable career path for an African American man growing up in a working class neighborhood. Undeterred, Moody completed his architecture degree and founded Moody and Associates in 1982 in a struggling economy, staffing the firm with himself and just one graduate student. A year later, Moody joined forces with the late engineer Howard E. Nolan, both of whom had directly experienced Whitney Young Jr.’s assessment of equal rights in the profession. The founders’ belief that diverse perspectives foster creativity and more responsive solutions echoes throughout its 11 offices nationwide. Women comprise 42 percent of the staff, while more than 30 percent identify as minorities.

“The culture of collaboration that fosters Moody Nolan’s success permeates all levels of their organization,” wrote Graham S. Wyatt, FAIA, in a letter supporting Moody Nolan’s nomination for the Architecture Firm Award. “It is responsively client-focused, and it benefits from the exceptional diversity of Moody Nolan’s staff and project type experience. Above all, the firm’s culture is led by the extraordinary example of Curt Moody and by senior leaders in the firm’s many offices and areas of practice.”

In cities like Chicago, Seattle, and Columbus, Ohio, Moody Nolan’s work is reflective of the people who will live, learn, and heal in the spaces it creates. Its work has been lauded with more than 320 design citations and significant awards, including Moody’s receipt of AIA’s Whitney M. Young Jr. Award in 1992, its AIA Ohio Gold Medal in 2007, and the National Organization of Minority Architects’ (NOMA) President’s Exemplary Service Award in 2008. The firm was also named NOMA’s firm of the year in 2000.

“Curt Moody has been a mentor and role model to so many in the NOMA community that the full impact of his contributions will be felt for generations to come. He and the firm have done a phenomenal job of preparing for the future, particularly with setting an example for succession planning,” wrote Kimberly Dowdell, AIA, NOMA, in a letter supporting Moody Nolan’s nomination. “Of the 12 NOMA founders, all whom were Black firm owners, regrettably, none of their firms grew beyond their own career. The legacy of Moody Nolan is something for all firms to aspire to, and NOMA is exceptionally delighted to count Moody Nolan among our shining examples of firm excellence.”

Beyond the compelling design of buildings, the firm views its work as a way to encourage architecture careers in diverse communities and carry on the firm’s legacy. That ethos is made clear in projects such as Columbus’ Martin Luther King Library Branch, a vibrant community center that responds to both the character of the surrounding community and the powerful legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Though it is only 20,000 square feet, the unique facility makes a powerful and uplifting statement. In Chicago, the firm worked with City Colleges of Chicago to further its commitment to the city’s troubled South Side and replaced the aging Malcolm X College and School of Health Sciences. Despite inheriting budget issues and a very tight timeline, Moody Nolan provided the school's predominantly low-income student body with a technologically advanced learning environment that is focused on allied health professions.

“Moody Nolan’s buildings are often the transformational centers of activity at the colleges and universities that they serve,” William J. Stanley III, FAIA, NOMAC, wrote in support of the firm’s nomination. “Their projects become the signature buildings that set the standard for others to follow. Numerous campuses have been enhanced by their thoughtful, cutting-edge solutions. Moody Nolan's culture of excellence has resulted in multiple highly successful collaborations with other nationally acclaimed design firms on museums, schools, and other ventures of national significance.”

In 2017, as a way to further its commitment to the community, Moody Nolan launched the Legacy House project. Fully funded by the firm and select partners, the project is committed to designing and constructing a home in each of the 11 communities in which the firm operates. The first house, in Columbus, Ohio, was completed in 2018 and was gifted to a single mother with three young children. The home sparked a renewed interest in the neighborhood, prompting neighbors to clean up their properties and spurring new development. Other homes have broken ground or are planned in Nashville and Chicago.

As the nation grapples with systemic racism and significant issues of inequality, the ideals of diversity espoused by Moody Nolan since its founding stand as a model for advancing the profession. The firm has long operated at the critical junction of architecture and citizenship, demonstrating that responsible design requires a marriage of art, function, and community.

Jury

Emily Grandstaff-Rice, FAIA, Chair, Arrowstreet Inc., Boston, Massachusetts

Trevor Bullen, AIA, Snow Kreilich Architects, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Chyanne Husar, AIA, HUSarchitects, Chicago, Illinois

Clarence Kwan, AIA, Amazon, Seattle, Washington

Steven Lewis, FAIA, ZGF Architects LLP, Los Angeles, California

Lisa Matthiessen, FAIA, Los Angeles, California

Image credits

Moody Nolan

Alan Gustafson

The Connor Group Headquarters

Brad Feinknopf

Moody Nolan-04

Brad Feinknopf

Texas Southern University Student Library and Learning Center

Sam Brown

Martin Luther King Branch Library

Brad Feinknopf