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Talent, timing, shaped Curtis Moody into one of Ohio's premier architects

Curtis Moody of Moody:Nolan Architects in Columbus. Photos | Ben French
Curtis Moody of Moody:Nolan Architects in Columbus. Photos | Ben French

With hundreds of projects designed and built, 170 employees and almost a half-dozen offices around the U.S., Columbus-based Moody•Nolan is easily the largest African-American-owned architecture firm in the United States. But the company's CEO and president doesn't want to be defined as an African-American architect.

Curtis Moody is just an architect. A really good one.

Moody began his career 28 years ago in a house on Champion Avenue in Columbus. After Moody's first year out on his own, nine employees had signed on. "It was a depressed economy," he says. "I thought that I might as well make a move in a depressed economy. If I can do well in that economy I can do well in a robust economy."

It turned out to be perfect timing.

Word of Moody's talent got around, and his business grew to match his burgeoning reputation. Howard E. Nolan joined Moody in 1984, and newly formed Moody•Nolan flourished.

Moody took his passion for athletics (culminated while a basketball player for Ohio State University from 1971-73) and became a leader in the design of sports and recreation facilities for many cities, colleges and universities.

But this was no accident. It was Moody's work on the Jerome Schottenstein Center that he says launched the firm as well as his reputation.

"We had high hopes of growth," Moody recalls. "We went from a mid-size firm to a real competitor in the collegiate sports facilities world."

Work on hometown Columbus projects gave the firm its nationwide credibility. And also allowed Moody•Nolan to expand. Some projects are huge, some not-so-huge. The company has designed fire stations, libraries, schools, police stations, public service buildings and prisons.

"Our practice has been not only in one area of expertise," he says. "We have a host of other projects that we have expanded into. Our diversity of work has allowed us to fare better in this recession."

Moody calls his style "responsive architecture" that is, the client has a vision and Moody takes it to another level.

"We are delivering for our clients the most innovative designs within the parameters that they have provided," he says, the parameters being about the program, budget and schedule. "The solution is going to be indicative of whatever the clients asks. It represents the clients' dream and aspirations, and is interpreted in an artistic way by us."

The firm doesn't slow down much. The Moody•Nolan team just began projects for student recreation centers at Purdue University, University of Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, West Virginia University and the University of Texas. Moody talks energetically about designing the International African-American Museum in Charleston, S.C. the port city where 40 percent of the slaves were imported.

Moody•Nolan has offices (count 'em) in Columbus; Cleveland; Indianapolis, Ind.; Covington, Ky.; Kansas City, Mo.; Nashville Tenn; and Washington D.C., and there are plans to open an office in the famous Rookery Building in Chicago (the building that legendary U.S. architects Root and Burnham called home). More than 170 people work for the company around the country.

While growth of the Moody-Nolan architectural empire represents billions of dollars of construction, success hasn't come without obstacles. 

"As an African-American architect, people thought we were just a minority firm," he says. "Forget that we are an African-American firm. We are a fully capable service firm in our own right."

The sting of a racial undercurrent is at times still very fresh. Several years ago, the firm was approached to construct a student hall for a traditionally black college in the South. Moody says what happened next, before the (unnamed) state's chairman of the board of regents, shocked him.

"'I don't mean to offend you, but did you really do these projects?'" Moody recalls the chairman asking of his previous work. "What he was saying was 'you are a minority firm, you must be telling us a story.' We said 'no, we designed these.' They had trouble believing me."

"Those attitudes are out there," he says. "You can't close your eyes to them. They are just there."

Those attitudes, Moody says, have served as a motivator in his career. "We work harder than the next competitor," he says.

"How well do you handle diversity?" Moody asks, noting this question is asked of potential employees of the firm. "This business is made up of problems. How do you take the negative and turn it into a positive outcome? That's been the hallmark of this company."

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