In the real estate world, diversity programs are on the rise. The Real Estate Board of New York has a Diversity Working Group and the National Association of Realtors has their Diversity Committee. But are these efforts enough?
One firm is proving diversity can and should be more than a program. Visit Moody Nolan’s website to see one of the first sentences on their About page: “For us, diversity isn’t a program, an initiative or a recruiting plan—diversity is who we are.”
It’s clear that the commercial real estate industry has a diversity problem. According to the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, women make up just a third of the CRE workforce, while only 2% of C-level positions are held by Black men. Where does that leave Black women?
Moody Nolan is well-known as the largest African American-owned architecture ﬁrm in the country. It all started when Curt Moody founded an architecture firm called Moody and Associates back in 1982, which started with just two employees in Ohio. It partnered with Howard E. Nolan & Associates, an engineering firm, and Moody Nolan was born. Since its inception, the firm has grown to a team of 280 professionals, and has offices across the country, including in Atlanta, Chicago, DC and New York City.
For Moody Nolan, it’s integral to represent African American women in the industry.
“Women have been historically underrepresented within the architecture and design profession, and Black women and other women of color have been even more so marginalized,” said Latoya Kamdang, the Director of Operations for Moody Nolan’s New York office. “There are countless women in the shadows of history whose stories haven’t been told. When I can, I want to bring awareness to the women of color who are making a signiﬁcant and positive impact on our industry.”
One project she recently worked on was the expansion of the Jacob K. Javits Center, the largest convention center in the city. which was completed this year. The 1.2 million square foot addition project cost over $1.5 billion, helping create new freight elevators, loading docks, exhibition and meeting space.
“As the project executive on a large-scale addition totaling 1.2 million square feet, it was surreal to see the addition come to life from what was expressed as only diagrams, sketches and renderings on paper,” Kamdang recounted. “The project was a collaborative eﬀort and an expression of the creative and technical eﬀorts of multiple team members.”
In working with Tuner Construction and Lendlease, this addition has been designed with sustainability in mind, as it is on track to achieve LEED Silver Certification.
“It was imperative to execute the project with an integrated team approach,” she said. “The large scale of the addition required a great deal of coordination.”
Despite the firm’s trailblazing achievements, many norms still need to change in architecture, design and real estate today.
“Moody Nolan is driven by community-focused projects, and the opportunity for growth in the industry here is massive,” Kamdang said. “Our ﬁrm designs for what’s next — for the next generation of workers, educators, healthcare heroes, patients, athletes and more. That means our designs are meant to serve the members of the community. We believe that there should continue to be a bigger push for sustainable, creative designs that integrate a total experience for the visitor.”
Moody Nolan is changing the game on various levels. “Not only is it the most well-known and largest African American-owned architecture ﬁrm in the country, but it is also the most award-winning African American-owned ﬁrm,” Kamdang said, noting that it was the recipient of AIA’s 2021 Architecture Firm Award — the highest honor the organization bestows on an architecture practice — for prioritizing excellence and community-driven projects.
“Moody Nolan is committed to melding practical function with individualized culture to create design statements that respond to evolving spaces, aesthetics and site dynamics — we’d like to see more of that creativity melding with purpose across the board,” Kamdang said.
Another project she’s working on is the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor in Buffalo, New York.
Set in Buffalo, this area is aiming to enrich the city’s African American history through its vibrant neighborhoods and strategic storytelling. This effort should shed light on the underground railroad and the Buﬀalo Niagara Movement. The goal is to uplift and inspire future generations.
“It’ll continue to widely elevate the rich African American history of Buﬀalo,” Kamdang said. “We have a fantastic chance to develop a neighborhood in Buﬀalo that honors the history and culture and grows with the community’s needs in mind.”
To Kamdang, women mentoring other women in real estate is a key factor to helping broaden the industry. One of her mentors, when she was early in her career, was Allison Grace Williams, a Principal at Perkins & Will. “She is a beacon of creativity, intellect and professionalism,” Kamdang said.
“As a visiting associate professor at Pratt Institute, I’ve been providing mentorship and guidance not only to my staﬀ but students who are beginning in the profession,” she said. “As architects and designers, we must be more creative in our process and how we are using our time to communicate our ideas.”
It’s not just for the classroom. Kamdang also recently started a series of posts on LinkedIn, where she shares the story of an underrepresented architect — mostly women — every Wednesday.
“The stories are meant to inspire and bring awareness to a wider audience,” she explained. “Since I’ve been fortunate to see strong professional, inspirational examples, I understand how important representation has been to my own career.”
Moody Nolan gives back, as they have their Legacy House Project, which provides one family in each of their markets with a modern, appealing home at no cost. It’s all part of the firm’s philanthropic eﬀorts. They currently have one Legacy House built in Columbus, Ohio, and there are plans to build at least 11 more homes in each of their communities.
“Aﬀordable housing is key to our mission and provides meaningful opportunities for our staﬀ to work with communities,” Kamdang said. “The project provides underserved neighborhoods with aﬀordable and architecturally modern homes, modeling a new approach to aﬀordable housing.”
The firm understands that diversity is about investment, not only representation.