We Design: People. Practice. Progress.
Principal & Design Director • Perkins and Will
Phil Freelon was committed to designing a more socially equitable world. Over his 42-year career, he broke down socioeconomic and cultural barriers in architecture and design. Phil’s lifelong dedication to designing places that express the spirit of community, promote cultural equity, and create positive social change has left a significant impact on the world.
The architecture profession is not very diverse. About 2% of licensed architects in this country are African American, and that hasn’t changed in the past 30 or 40 years since I was in school, so it’s been a challenge and a concern of mine, and of the entire profession. This issue is not going to be solved or addressed by just waiting for something to happen, so it takes initiative and taking steps to increase awareness. My feeling is that if more young people were exposed to architecture and knew about it, then they’d be more inclined to pursue it as a career.
Phil Freelon (1953 – 2019) was committed to designing a more socially equitable world. Over his 42-year career, he broke down socioeconomic and cultural barriers in architecture and design. Phil’s lifelong dedication to designing places that express the spirit of community, promote cultural equity, and create positive social change has left a significant impact on the world.
Architecture is inspirational when it expresses the unique aspirations and ideals of the community it serves”
Phil led the design of almost every major museum or public space dedicated to Black culture in the United States, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.; the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia; the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, California; the Motown Museum in Detroit, Michigan; the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi; and Historic Emancipation Park in Houston, Texas. He was, arguably, the most significant African American architect in recent history.
Phil standing in front of the National Museum of African American History and Culture
A selection of Phil’s work
In Their Own Words: Phil Freelon
Phil Freelon shares the story of his family, who influenced his life from every angle—from being an architect, to being a father, and to Phil’s commitment to social justice.
Video produced by Perkins and Will
Photo Courtesy of NC State University
In 1990, Phil founded and began growing his practice, The Freelon Group, into one of North Carolina’s largest and most distinguished architecture firms. The group later merged with the global architecture firm Perkins and Will, where he became design director of their North Carolina practice. His exceptional leadership was recognized in numerous ways, including his 2011 appointment by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, his 2017 designation as Architect of the Year by Fast Company, and his 2017 receipt of the North Carolina Award, the highest civilian honor in the state that Phil has called home for over 30 years. His family was his greatest source of love and pride; he was a devoted husband, father, and grandfather.
Phil spoke to the lack of diversity in the architecture field, and the need for initiative to promote increased awareness of the viability of an architecture career for young Black people.