Curtis Moody's tenacity and Jonathan Moody's willingness to reinvent are spurring the architecture firm's growth.

The theme for 2020 at Moody Nolan is “breakthrough.” It could apply, really, to any of the Columbus architecture firm’s 39 years in business.

It was a breakthrough in 1982 when Curtis Moody, a black man in a field that even today has just 2 percent African American representation, started his own firm with one employee. It was a breakthrough when it grew to nine people by 1983. It was a breakthrough in 1984 when Moody teamed up with Howard Nolan, a black engineer who also had started his own firm in Columbus.

But Jonathan Moody, who succeeded his father in January as CEO of the firm that now has 221 employees in 12 offices from Boston to Dallas, says Moody Nolan’s own employees fail to take stock of how far they’ve come.

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“There are people who know us as who we are today. There are people who still think of who we were 10 or 15 years ago,” he says. “We grapple with that sometimes from the inside, too. We constantly have to re-educate ourselves. We’re really good at a lot of things.”

Central Ohio residents have seen Moody Nolan’s work often: Huntington Park, the Bicentennial Pavilion, the Ohio Union and Schottenstein Center, and the NetJets and OhioHealth headquarters. Beyond Columbus, Moody Nolan’s work includes Wintrust Arena in Chicago, an expansion of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York and the Music City Center in Nashville.

Curtis Moody went into business the year before his son was born. “I grew up as kind of looking in,” Jonathan says. “On a Saturday afternoon, we’d stop in at the office. On family trips we’d go see a building. I spent a lot of summers in the print room or in the attic, filing drawings.”

He earned his bachelor’s degree in architecture from Cornell University and a master’s in architecture from University of California, Los Angeles. He came home in 2011 to work as a designer at Moody Nolan. The plan for what would come next was another breakthrough: the first time (that they know of) an African American-owned architecture firm would be passed on to a new generation.

Moody says more growth lies ahead, into new cities and new areas of work. The new CEO declines to identify markets, but he quotes his father: “We can continue on the path of growth or we’ll stagnate. My dad always says the most dangerous thing you can be is the same.”

Curtis Moody, who’s now chairman of the board, is similarly focused on the future. “We have a goal for our growth, not just in size and in revenue, but in talent and design capabilities and on and on and on.”

The struggles were—and remain—real, even though Moody Nolan today is the nation’s largest African American-owned architecture firm. Curtis Moody recalls competing for a project in Mississippi and being interrupted by a government official who was skeptical Moody Nolan did the work featured in its portfolio. In an Ohio city he doesn’t name, after he and Howard Nolan walked in, officials called a closed-door meeting, changed their criteria and selected another firm. In Chicago, Moody Nolan submitted 16 references on a project for which only three were required, and officials checked with every one.

Former Franklin County Commissioner Paula Brooks met Curtis Moody in the late 1980s when she worked for the state of Ohio and Moody Nolan was part of a team that won a Statehouse renovation project. She says she sensed then the struggles the firm faced.

“He said you have no idea what this means to me,” Brooks recalls. “I was so enormously impressed with his humility. Curt’s never asked for anything special, just a fair shot.”

Bob Vitale is a freelance writer.