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The Freelon Group, Perkins + Will
African American AIA Fellow

SAY IT LOUD - NOW Exhibitor
SAY IT LOUD - NOMA 50th Exhibition
SAY IT LOUD - Washington DC Exhibitor

North Carolina Based Designer

Who or what inspires you professionally?



The great architect, Phil Freelon was one of the world’s most recognized and celebrated architects—known for his distinctly human-centered designs that empower the individual, educate the mind, and elevate the spirit.


Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Phil grew up surrounded by the visual and performing arts. As a young boy, he spent many hours in the studio of his grandfather, a Harlem Renaissance-era oil painter. And his parents regularly took him to cultural events, inspiring him and nurturing his passion for artistic self-expression.


Although he didn’t know any architects, Phil knew architecture was his calling. It spoke to his artistic sensibility, as well as his aptitude for mathematics and problem-solving. As he immersed himself in his practice, he quickly came to understand the awesome power design has to support life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—and he vowed to make that his life’s work. 


A compelling sensitivity to humanity is evident in each of Freelon’s landmark projects: The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C., the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, the Harvey B. Gantt Center in Charlotte, the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, Emancipation Park in Houston, and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson. 


With an artistic vision tied to the everyday person, he founded The Freelon Group in 1990, in Durham, NC, to bring the benefits of design to previously neglected public space and to give people a sense of dignified belonging. Working in North Carolina and throughout the U.S., The Freelon Group became one of the nation’s largest African American owned architecture firms. Projects designed during this period are life science, library, and academic buildings for Historically Black Colleges and Universities including North Carolina Central University and North Carolina A&T; the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture in Baltimore; and the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro.


In 2014, The Freelon Group joined global design firm Perkins and Will. Projects led by Freelon at Perkins and Will include North Carolina Freedom Park in Raleigh, the Durham County Human Services Complex in Durham, the Durham Transportation Center, and the Motown Museum Expansion in Detroit. He was appointed to the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee of Perkins and Will while serving dual roles as Managing Director and Design Director of the firm’s North Carolina practice. In 2012, President Barack Obama appointed Freelon to the US Commission of Fine Arts. In 2017, he was named architect of the year by Fast Company, honoring him as "America's Humanitarian Architect".


While his designs will continue to shape the way people experience many cities, neighborhoods, and spaces, his legacy extends to significant efforts in promoting access and inclusivity in the arts, encouraging diversity in architecture, and supporting the search for a cure to ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. After his ALS diagnosis in 2016, Freelon’s empathy for others continued to define him. In partnership with his wife, Nnenna, he established the Freelon ALS Fund to support research and treatment of the disease, and to support ALS patients and their families. 


Object Two - Practice Management, or Practice Technical Advancement


Year of Elevation: 


Featured Project Name: 

National Museum of African American History and Culture


Featured Project Location: 

National Mall, Washington DC


Featured Project Completion Date: 


Role in Featured Project: 

Lead Architect

Photography Credit:

Alan Karchmer

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