Largest African American owned architecture firm in the nation dedicated to inspiring Chicago’s youth

Chicago's Very Own

CHICAGO — It is the largest African American owned architecture firm in the nation. From universities to health care facilities, Moody Nolan has taken part in a variety of structures that make Chicago what it is today.

But they’re also dedicated to building a diverse team of employees, including minorities and women.

For 38, years the Moody Nolan firm has been changing the architectural landscape of cities across the country, while also building a diverse workforce.

“It was Mr. Moody’s desire from the onset to build a firm, and a firm and a firm culture, that valued diversity. That really looked to leverage and seek out the best and the brightest in totality, but also with a specific focus on woman and minorities,” said Renauld Mitchell, Moody Nolan Partner.

Founded in 1982 by Curtis Moody in Columbus, Ohio, the firm has expanded across the nation but always with an emphasis to attract and employ a team that represents the community.

In a career field that was once virtually unknown to women, the efforts of Moody Nolan have paid off with now 35% of its leadership female.

“You are starting to see more women in these technical professions. I think there’s been a major movement and push for that. Where I think it’s lacking though is the African American population,” said Rachel Cooper, Senior Project Coordinator at Moody Nolan.

Mitchell is head partner of the Chicago branch. He believes the lack of various representation in the architectural field is in part due to lack of exposure.

“One of the strategies we try to use, is get to get to people as early as possible. Even at the grade school level. Whether it be workshops and these can be formal or informal mentoring,” he said.  

Jennifer Johnson is one of the firm’s first mentors. She is vice president of the Illinois chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (I-NOMA). 

“We’re just trying to get the word out there that you can become an architect just like us. To see our faces makes it even more real for them,” said Johnson.

Seeing is believing, especially for the youth in Renauld’s native Englewood community. In September of 2019, he led the design and development project at the Englewood STEM High School.

By watching him lead the project, he’s hoping it will be an impetus for change — not only for the kids — but for the entire community who watched a black man spearheaded the entire development.

“Hey, I walked the same streets the same path,” he said. “I’m not special in that regard. I was given an opportunity and pursued it.”

And with these architects as living proof that you can achieve your dreams, they feel a responsibility to reach out and visit schools and summer camps and even speak to young women directly, hoping to generate an interested in the field they love.

“We try to portray, to showcase, the profession from the professionals perspective and letting young people know: Hey, this isn’t a pipe dream this is a real avenue for you, if you have the gift set, talent and where-with-all and the drive,” said Renauld.

 With projects like Malcom X College and WinTrust Arena, the team has much to be proud of, and it’s due to their dedication to architecture and their community that they believe their work is justing beginning.

“I have a unique responsibility to try to showcase young practitioners of color and to afford them every opportunity, not only to maximize their talent, but to be exposed to every element we can certainly offer,” said Renauld.

“It takes that. It takes teachers, individuals, professionals to take the time to come,” said Cooper.

Moody Nolan is not just limited to architecture. For those artistically inclined, they encourage students to consider all areas in the field of design.

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