Although Phil Freelon is originally from Philadelphia, Durham claims the architect as its own.
“It’s impossible to visit Durham and not encounter Freelon’s work,” writes Diana Budds for business publication Fast Company’s design blog, Co.Design.
Last week, the site named Freelon its Architect of the Year, dubbing the sixty-five-year-old “America’s Humanitarian Architect.”
From the article:
“Freelon is riding a decade-long hot streak in his career. He’s designed nearly every major museum or public space dedicated to black culture in the United States, from the [National Museum of African American History and Culture] in D.C., and the Center for Civil and Human Rights, in Atlanta, to the Museum of the African Diaspora, in San Francisco, the forthcoming Motown Museum, in Detroit, and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, in Jackson. He is the design director of Perkins + Will‘s North Carolina Practice and a member of the firm’s board, and was named by President Obama to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts in 2011 and served from 2012 to 2016. He’s unquestionably the most influential African-American architect practicing today.”
Locally, Freelon designed or co-designed the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the Durham Station Transportation Center, Terminal 2 at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, the Durham County Human Services Building, and a bio-manufacturing and technology center at N.C. Central. But Co.Design lauds him not only for the buildings he drafted but also his efforts to celebrate and promote diversity. Perkins+Will is made up of 40 percent women and 30 percent people of color, according to the article.
“You look at music and you look at sports and you have all these great examples of African Americans who have had transcendent impact on other professions, but not architecture,” Freelon told Co.Design. “Where’s our Miles Davis? Our Barack Obama? It’s because there isn’t critical mass. The profession, in general, is missing out on a potentially deep pool of talent and the world is missing out on great ideas and buildings that could be happening by virtue of that infusion of energy and creativity that we see in music or dance or almost any other profession.”
Freelon, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2016, founded the Freelon Foundation, which has raised more than $170,000 toward ALS research. He is married to Grammy-nominated singer Nnenna Freelon and has three children, including Pierce Freelon, who recently ran for mayor of Durham and has applied for the vacant city council seat.
Read more about Freelon and his work at Co.Design.