Courtesy Moody Nolan

In the construction industry, community service and charitable giving comes in many forms. While some companies will choose to donate a percentage of their revenue to relevant housing-related causes, others may take an active role and build homes for those in need.

Columbus, Ohio–based Moody Nolan, the largest African American–owned and managed architecture firm in the U.S., has contributed time and energy to several community programs in the past, including pro bono work, specialty events, outings, and dinners, but decided it was time to devote more time and resources to a hands-on product that would directly help the least advantaged within their communities.

As a result, the Moody Nolan Legacy House project was created. The project aims to provide free-standing, mortgage-free homes to financially struggling or homeless families who are unable to purchase a home themselves. In addition, the project serves as a viable template of affordable home design that could be replicated by other industry professionals and help solve one of housing’s largest issues.

“There are many hardworking families whose incomes may not qualify them for a home mortgage, but who are fully capable and committed to maintaining one,” says Curtis J. Moody, chairman of the board at Moody Nolan. “After many years of considering how we could best contribute to the community good, this idea seemed past due.”

The Idea
In 2017, team members at Moody Nolan came together to evaluate the firm’s charitable giving. While they knew the previous golf tournaments and dinners they participated in were supporting good causes, it was difficult to recall who exactly they benefited and how they made an impact years later.

Courtesy Moody Nolan

After some discussion, staffers collectively came to the conclusion that they should utilize their architecture knowledge and talent and produce a contribution that would create a long-lasting legacy.

Courtesy Moody Nolan

“Every city that we are in has a housing problem,” Moody says. “We decided to address the bottom scale of housing and design a house that could go into a neighborhood that any young professional would like to have themselves, but make it small so it could be maintained.”

After setting finances aside to design and build the home, the firm sought out partners that could help offset the overall costs. Then, it teamed with the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority, which donated the initial land, and the YMCA of Central Ohio and Southeast, Inc., to select a family in need.

For the overall design, the firm took cues from the tiny living movement. It ultimately decided on a 700-square-foot home, doubling the size of most 350-square-foot tiny homes. But unlike the mobile dwellings, it needed to have three bedrooms for parents and children, private space, and a true second level.

The Execution
The first Legacy House was completed in the firm’s home city of Columbus in February 2019. Built with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, the home encompasses approximately 750 square feet and stands out in the area’s Linden neighborhood with a bright orange façade and modern exterior.

Courtesy Moody Nolan

The light-filled first floor includes a combined kitchen, living, and dining area with high ceilings and contemporary design accents. An adjacent deck gives the home extended living space and encourages outdoor activity.

To accommodate a potential single parent, the stairway and second level were designed with high visibility, due to the master bedroom’s location on the lower level.

Upstairs, two dormitory-style bedrooms were designed to accommodate up to four children, with space for bunk beds in each. The firm also included another full bath, a storage closet, and laundry facilities on the second level.

Courtesy Moody Nolan

Moody Nolan intends to present a Legacy House, similar to the Columbus prototype, to a deserving family each year. The firm plans to design and oversee the construction of 12 houses total, one in each of the 12 communities where it has offices. With the first home now owner-occupied, the next project in Nashville, Tenn., has broken ground, and the effort has attracted outside interest. In November, Moody delivered a TEDx talk on the project concept.

“As architects, we are always striving to educate one another and learn,” Moody says. “The Legacy House project’s greatest accomplishment is inspiring others to be visionary and make a change, one house at a time.”