Father-son alumni duo embrace entrepreneurial spirit
One of Curtis Moody’s mottos is, “Do what you can, when you can, with what you got, while you've got it.”
It’s a philosophy that has benefitted the Ohio State alumnus, renowned architect and founder of Moody Nolan—the AIA 2021 Architecture Firm of the Year. It’s also a belief embraced by his son, David, a fellow alumnus and entrepreneur who launched civil engineering firm Moody Engineering in 2014.
Introduced to the architecture field in grade school, Curtis Moody passed up several scholarships to play sports at smaller institutions because they didn’t teach architecture. Instead, he was a walk-on for the Buckeyes Men’s Basketball team and earned a bachelor’s in architecture from Ohio State in 1973.
In 1982, Moody launched Moody and Associates with one employee during an economic downturn. By the end of that year, the firm grew to nine staff members and in 1984, he teamed with the engineering firm Howard E. Nolan & Associates to create Moody Nolan.
Today Moody Nolan is the largest African American-owned architecture firm in the nation, with 230 employees and offices in 11 cities.
But Moody’s path to success has included a number of barriers.
In a profession where only 2% of licensed architects are African American, he often had to battle stereotypes.
“One of the difficulties that I had when I started the firm was trying to beat down perceptions that you may not be as qualified as the next firm,” Moody said. “Sometimes committees had a previous concept of African American-owned firms. They had not seen any that were very large or did significant projects that they've seen in magazines.”
Moody persevered and his firm developed a reputation for its good work, including many projects at Ohio State. As a former Buckeyes basketball player, designing the Schottenstein Center was “a big, big deal,” for him. Moody Nolan also designed the Student Union, Recreation and Physical Activity Center, Jesse Owens Track and Covelli Arena, to name a few.
“By being able to do those projects, Ohio State gave us the opportunity to showcase them on other campuses throughout the country,” Moody said. “Especially in Big Ten country.”
Moody Nolan’s extensive portfolio includes Penn State’s recreation centers, the University of Wisconsin’s student centers, Columbus’ Martin Luther King Branch Library and the Columbus airport expansion.
Designing the 545,000-square-foot Malcolm X College and School of Health Sciences for the City Colleges of Chicago was another milestone, noted Moody. It’s the city’s largest project by an African American architect.
In recognition of its distinguished work, Moody Nolan received the American Institute of Architects’ 2021 Architecture Firm Award—the institute’s highest honor given to architecture practices. It’s the first African American-owned recipient and first central Ohio firm to receive the award.
“You can't get any better endorsement than your peers, who basically say, not only are you competent, but how you built your firm is a model to the nation,” said Moody.
“I'm happy that we end up being a firm that others—women-owned firms, firms of color—can look to that shows you can reach a point that others in the industry will acknowledge. For us to be a firm that can create that kind of image for somebody else is really good, because I missed that.”
Inspiring the next generation
Not only has Curtis Moody influenced architects across the nation, he has also inspired his son.
At the encouragement of his high school calculus teacher, David Moody decided to study mechanical engineering because of his interest in robotics and aptitude for math.
He received a full-tuition scholarship to Ohio State, but it was the university’s Pre First-Year Academic and Career Engagement (PREFACE) Program that cinched his decision to become a Buckeye.
“Knowing that I could get an introduction to college-level chemistry, physics and math before I started my college career, and I could fail and it wouldn't count. That's what put Ohio State over the rest,” said David, who earned his mechanical engineering degree in 2005.
After receiving a National Science Foundation Fellowship to attend graduate school, he earned a master’s and PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of California at Berkley.
David planned to pursue a career in academia, but first wanted to gain some industry experience. “I enjoyed the professors at Ohio State and at Berkeley who had the experience component. Who could say, from a practical application, these are the things that you need to learn in order to be successful in your career.”
In 2014, after Moody Nolan decided to disband its civil engineering unit, Curtis and his partners offered David the right to hire the firm’s engineering staff and launch his own business.
Newly married and working for a Fortune 500 company at the time, David decided it was the best possible time to take a risk.
“My dad issued a little bit of a challenge in some ways—see if you can do what I did 30-some-odd years ago,” David said. “He didn't give me any promises, like we're going to just work with you. It was more, it will be whatever you make it to be.”
Seven years later, he has steered Moody Engineering to become Columbus CEO’s 2020 Best Engineering Firm with two offices and 13 employees.
“Knowing my little firm is well regarded within central Ohio for the kind of work that we're doing means a lot,” David said. “We're just as capable as any of those other firms, right now we're just a little bit smaller.”
Moody Engineering’s portfolio of over 100 completed projects includes working on Ohio State’s Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Center, Biomedical and Materials Engineering Complex and airport. The company also did utility work for the Columbus Crew’s new stadium and is working on the Cuyahoga County Justice Center in Cleveland.
David credits his father’s example with being a major influence on his decision to become an entrepreneur and said it’s a path he hopes more Buckeyes will take.
“I wish more Ohio State grads in particular would consider entrepreneurship and take a bit more risk,” he said. “I remember one of the conversations that my wife and I had when we decided to come and do this was, ‘Yes, this could fail miserably, absolutely. But what if it works?’”
Curtis agreed, stressing that perseverance is key.
“Utilize whatever talents you have right now, whatever resources you have right now. Strike a path with that,” he encouraged. “Do what you can, while you can, because none of us know—especially with COVID this year—what's going happen to your health, your income. You only have what you have right now, so use it.”
by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org