Co-founders Nora Jendoubi and Derwin Sisnett.
Courtesy Maslow Development, A2H, and DPZ Co-founders Nora Jendoubi and Derwin Sisnett.

The Memphis, Tenn.–based Maslow Development—named after Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, from physiological requirements like shelter to self-actualization—has a clear mission: Anchor its projects in meeting the fundamental needs of communities. With access to shelter, health care, food, and education, people thrive, and yet, these interlocking necessities often escape low-income areas, leaving residents deprived of the basics that provide for an adequate life, let alone a transcendent one. Recognizing this gap, Maslow Development co-founders Nora Jendoubi and Derwin Sisnett hope to use high-quality schools as a foundation for mixed-use, income-diverse community development, creating structures for all residents to succeed.

“We’ve seen schools disconnected from communities,” says Jendoubi, which has made it difficult to use schools as anchors or hubs for the community beyond a school’s direct users. “Education by itself is hard; real estate by itself is hard. And somehow we decided to bring those two together,” Sisnett said in a 2021 interview with Tennessee SCORE, a state collaborative for education reform. “We essentially are a nonprofit real-estate development company that co-designs and develops communities with community at the center of it.”

The Lighthouse Project in Memphis, Tenn
Courtesy Maslow Development, A2H, and DPZ The Lighthouse Project in Memphis, Tenn

The firm’s proof-of-concept design is the Lighthouse Project in Memphis, a “holistic ecosystem anchored by learning” currently in its early stages. With 15 acres of land situated between two communities with stark socioeconomic differences, Lighthouse would bridge divides by ensuring that the school, after the final bell rings, is also available as an adaptive community resource with both a canteen and coworking space. Jendoubi and Sisnett, who both have experience in the education field, want to reinvigorate a model of development that’s powered by dynamic communities for generations, while guaranteeing access for low-income housing through the use of affordable housing tax credits, taking the Lighthouse Project concept wherever it’s wanted elsewhere.

“We’ve been doing community schools since the beginning, but we veered away from having the school as an anchor,” says Sisnett, who is also a 2023 Harvard GSD Loeb Fellow. “How can we make affordable housing, health and wellness, and education accessible, and bring that back to life with a development architectural lens?”

This article first appeared in the October issue of ARCHITECT.