Brian Tibbs is a partner in the Nashville office of Moody Nolan Inc., the largest African-American-owned architectural firm in the country. A native of Huntsville, Ala., he attended the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where he studied architecture.
Tibbs is serving as Moody Nolan’s project manager for the company’s efforts involving the Music City Center convention facility, which also involves Atlanta-based Thompson Ventulett Stainback and Associates and Nashville’s Tuck-Hinton Architects. He recently sat down with City Paper correspondent William Williams to discuss topics involving the design industry.
When did you realize you wanted to be an architect?
I went to college to study electrical engineering at the University of Alabama, but was mostly a music major. I had aspirations to become a classical timpanist; however, I wanted to find a career that would combine my creative and practical interests.
While sitting in the career placement office, I read an article in Time magazine that described architecture as a career that would combine my two interests. I tore the page out and enrolled in architecture school in New Jersey the following year.
What is Moody Nolan’s role in the team working on the Music City Center?
Moody Nolan has dual roles on the project. Our primary role is to serve as the Nashville project manager for the project and to play a part of the construction document preparation. Tuck-Hinton and TVS are concentrating more on the design issues, while we are coordinating the building with the other numerous consultants and Metro agencies such as Metro Codes and the Metro Fire Marshal.
Our local architectural role also includes producing the construction documents of the 350,000-square-foot Exhibition Hall. We will be taking a major role in assisting with the coordination of all of the construction documents and providing construction administration.
There are some citizens who have expressed concern that the preliminary MCC designs suggest the facility might be excessively boxy and not as pedestrian-friendly as is ideal. How do you respond?
From day one, we have investigated how to make the Music City Center pedestrian-friendly and we are continuing to study ways to make the convention center more active for non-convention uses such as adding retail options at street level.
When people imagine the sheer size and shape of a convention center, they automatically picture a boxy building. Even though there have been several public meetings to share information on the convention center design, I think the general public has a hard time understanding the details that contribute to the design process.
Once the public sees the design renderings – the rolling roof, glass and the variety in the building’s elevations – I believe everyone will agree that the design is far from boxy and will meet everyone’s expectations. The Music City Center will be one of the most architecturally significant buildings in downtown once construction is complete.
What will be the main design keys in terms of design and function of the Music City Center? Do you prefer — as many citizens perhaps would — form over function for a “statement civic building?"
The functional design keys are the exhibition space, the ballroom and the meeting rooms. These are probably the three key design components that any convention center is judged on.
In our design, we have put a lot of attention to the Music City Center being a true five-sided building, where the fifth side is the roof. Because we did not want the Music City Center to appear to be another “big box” with a flat roof, we have designed a green roof to resemble the hills of Middle Tennessee. We also have put a lot of thought into the elevations engaging the pedestrian movement along the four streets that surround the center.
It’s important to make sure that each building we design addresses what the building is being used for. Thus, function is always a priority. However, as architects we have to balance form and function and create buildings that add to the fabric of our community.
What is your favorite newer Nashville building not designed by Moody Nolan?
I think the structure that has appealed to me recently is the Student Center by Gilbert | McLaughlin Architects on the Vanderbilt University campus. I have attended programs there, and the space is very well thought out. The simple lines and the use of natural materials work well, and it appears to be appropriately sited on the campus.
What is your take on “replica architecture” for the 21st century?
Replicas are always going to have their proponents and detractors. Most architects fall into the latter category due to the training we go through in school. The most notable replica in Nashville — the Parthenon — has gained quite a following from all of us.
As a member of the Metro Historical Zoning Commission, I have seen that there are many people who do not understand the rationale behind having new architecture that is not a direct copy of historic work. Historic buildings, and even residences, should stand for their period in time. Copying all of a structure’s architectural details would make it difficult to distinguish the era of construction and, in the end, not respect the original work.
You are a board member of the Nashville Civic Design Center. What is your take on the proposed riverfront redevelopment plan, in which the center is actively involved? Many folks would like to see the Riverfront Adventure Park as the first component. Are you with them?
This is a well-deserved upgrade to this area and I’d like to see the Riverfront Adventure Park be built soon. I also think there are pressing economic factors that will be important in determining which projects will be funded and built in the near future.
From a practical standpoint, the adventure park could be an advantageous first step, but it sounds like there are other proposals that include phases that might work better for how the total project is funded and implemented. I am sure that a solution will be reached that will work best for the community and for Metro.
Moody Nolan did the interior redesign of Fisk University masterpiece Cravath Hall. That must have been quite exciting.
The Cravath Hall redesign was an unbelievably rewarding experience for me since I served as project manager. Henry Hibbs, the original Cravath Hall architect, designed some of the most respected Nashville buildings, including Vanderbilt University’s Scarritt-Bennett Center. Dissecting his design and studying how he would have approached this new use for his building in this century was an exciting undertaking.
Finding ways to conceal heating and air conditioning systems that were not part of the original design was challenging. It was as if Hibbs knew what was coming. He left unused shafts between floors that we used to conceal necessary piping and ductwork. The original elevator shaft was used to move systems vertically, and an original fire stair shaft became the new elevator.
These design elements and the conservation of the famous Aaron Douglas murals (a part of the building’s original architecture) were some of the project’s highlights. The conservator found murals that had not been seen since the 1960s. Bringing the beautiful oak casework and detailed stonework back to life helped give the building back its original pride.
You’re also involved with MDHA’s Diversity Business Enterprise program. How has that gone?
Moody Nolan has been working with a variety of Metro agencies, including MDHA, for 14 years and has participated in diversity programs with each of them. Through these programs, we have met many other small, female- and minority-owned firms with which we have formed business alliances, and we include these consultants whenever possible on our projects.
We have had many successful projects with these consultants over the years, and we have become a reference for those who may be searching for small, female, or minority-firm assistance.