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Design Digest: Moody Nolan

Brent Warren Brent Warren Design Digest: Moody Nolan
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Columbus-based architectural firm Moody Nolan has a reach that extends across the country – with nine offices and a staff of 175, their portfolio has grown to include many high profile projects across a wide range of disciplines. In Columbus their impact is obvious – a sampling of recent work includes Huntington Park, the new Shepard and Parsons libraries, the Linden-McKinley STEM Academy, the Hilton-Columbus Downtown, proposed housing in East Franklinton, Poindexter Village, and the new proposal for 18th and Main. Moody Nolan is also the largest African American owned and managed firm in the country.

Columbus Underground recently was able to connect with Jonathan Moody, Partner and Architectural Designer at the firm (and son of founder Curtis Moody). Moody answered questions over email, touching on subjects ranging from the firm’s origins, to the growth of a design culture in Columbus, to his decision to return to his hometown after beginning his career in Los Angeles.

Columbus Underground: Can you tell us a little about the history of the firm?

Jonathan Moody: Moody Nolan was founded in 1982 as Moody and Associates. It was just my father and another person at the time working out of the basement of a different building. From what I understand, it was in the midst of a bad economy, but within a year we were up to nine employees. From there my father paired up with Howard Nolan and we became Moody Nolan. Most of our early projects were religious facilities and small public projects.

We eventually began teaming on larger projects to gain experience and expertise. It took a lot of prayer and luck, but eventually we were able to land some large projects that we completed on our own. One of the many challenges then was overcoming preconceptions about our capabilities. In our beginnings we tried many times to get an opportunity; my father has so many stories about the patience and passion it took to demonstrate our design talents and capabilities as a firm. We were very fortunate to eventually get some of these opportunities and grow our firm.

For about 20 years Moody Nolan was located in the old Moneypenny Mansion on the East side of Columbus. There were a few key moments in the 90’s that really changed our firm. My father was fortunate enough to win the Whitney M. Young Jr award and be named to the college of fellows by the American Institute of Architects. We were also able to win and complete a very significant project for our community and my father’s alma mater: The Ohio State University Jerome Schottenstein Center. I think I was in middle school at the time, but I still remember being so proud of my father and the firm. In the growth process we also opened regional offices in Nashville, Cleveland, Covington, Indiana, Chicago, DC, Dallas and Houston. Today we have a total staff of 175 throughout our offices. Our office is currently located in the Arena District.

Diversity is a word that you hear a lot around our firm. We’ve been able to develop a very diverse portfolio of project types and developed a diverse leadership thought process. Our staff is also culturally diverse, with many areas of project type expertise and that ultimately benefits the approach and creativity of our projects. This in turn gives us the ability to meet the many different needs of our different clients, which is national, and international. Our current work reflects this. We’re working coast to coast, internationally, and we have worked on over 100 different colleges and universities.

CU: I know you started your career in LA and chose to return to Columbus (and to your father’s firm) – how has it been to be back and working at Moody Nolan?

JM: Being back at Moody Nolan has been an amazingly perfect fit for me. I kind of grew up with the firm, but I had moved away from Columbus for about 9 years. When I came back, the city had changed so much and the firm with it. I really enjoy the different project types that we touch as well as the various scales of projects. But my favorite part is the people I get to be around every day. People said that working with family would be hard, but for me, it’s great to know that I have someone so close who has my best interests in mind. Every effort that I’ve been a part of always has people who really care about what they do and the impact they have on communities. It’s hard not to be excited about working with a group like this every day.

CU: Columbus has changed a lot in the last 10 to 20 years, do you think it’s growing as a center for design and architecture?

JM: I do believe that Columbus is slowly (not at the pace I’d like) moving toward becoming a center for design and architecture. We live in a diverse city and it’s only becoming more diverse as more people choose to live here. With its growth, there are more opportunities, higher expectations, and more great architects doing work. I’m of the opinion that this will only help us. Things are getting more competitive and with that it forces us to raise our game to be better architects that produce better design. With time, I think that our communities will become more savvy about what good design is and begin to demand that from architects and designers.

CU: Moody Nolan has been involved with so many high-profile projects all over the country – would you say there is an overall philosophy that applies to all of your work?

JM: Responsive Architecture is one of our aphorisms. We do not impose our ideas, but instead, we respond as professionals to our clients’ vision. Our first job is to listen and be sure we understand what we are being asked to respond to. We then work collaboratively around ideas to generate creative solutions that inspire anyone who experiences them. Part of being responsive is responding with solutions that exceed expectations. Another part is ensuring that our work is a reflection of the different clients and communities that we work in. The exciting challenge in all of this is to bring all of these thoughts together into innovative, functional, and sustainable solutions.

CU: Can you talk about the approach Moody Nolan has taken to large-scale urban redevelopment projects like Poindexter Village and the CMHA project in East Franklinton?

JM: First and foremost we take an approach of collaboration with many stakeholders besides our main client. These large projects only happen in collaboration with the City and often other financial partners that bring additional requirements to the project. From day one, we look to understand their vision, goals and limitations for the site.

It is critical to continue this dialogue until the day the project opens so we deliver the project as expected. We look to understand the vision of the City government officials, established master plans, architectural appearance of the context, infrastructure, and very critical to us, is to look for other possibilities that have not being considered that need to be brought forward.

Our approach to large scale projects focus on a “whole part whole” approach. We want to support city smart growth and a project that is good for at least the next 100 years. On the “whole” or large-scale approach, we look at the project from the resident and visitor experience. We look to create diversity, diversity of building types for different age groups and housing needs, different building types to make the streetscape more interesting, and diverse spaces that foster community events and environments for use.

On the “part” or small-scale approach, we look at the building details, materials and durability and also residential units that are well designed and great places to live. For Moody Nolan, it is easy to implement these approaches and thought processes as our clients understand and come with these notions to the table on day one. The challenge generally lies in the limits set by the project budgets and site limitations.

CU: Any exciting new projects that you’re currently working on, or looking forward to in the near future?

JM: There are definitely lots of exciting projects happening right now in our office. Many of our projects are large in scale and will transform the community in a positive way. Some of the exciting projects that we are currently working on are the East side of Columbus at Poindexter village, and Bridge Park in Dublin, currently under construction. We are also working with the Columbus Metropolitan Library on two libraries that will be in construction this year for the Parsons and Shepard communities. On the corporate sector, we are working with AEP on their new office location in New Albany and the expansion of Alliance Data’s office space at Easton.

CU: Anything else we should know about Moody Nolan?

JM: I’m very excited that my older brother, David Moody, recently moved back to Columbus and joined the firm!

More information about Moody Nolan can be found online at moodynolan.com.

Columbus Underground is celebrating Architecture and Design Week from September 21 through September 27, where we take a look at all things related to designing the future of our city. This week is brought to you with support from our friends at Continental Office and Schooley Caldwell Associates.

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