The highly anticipated National Center for Civil and Human Rights, designed by architect Phil Freelon in collaboration with architect of record HOK, opens today in downtown Atlanta. The Center presents visitors with the evolving global human and civil rights story experienced through a seamless integration of the building’s architecture and exhibits.
The Freelon/HOK team was selected following an international design competition that included competing entries produced by some of the world’s best known architects. The Center’s final design evolved from the winning entry and reflects The Center’s powerful vision of inspiring individual action by inviting visitors to reflect on how they can help create a more just and humane future for all.
“The Center uniquely and boldly connects historic freedom movements and iconic individuals, as well as everyday people, with the human rights issues of the present, thus sparking ongoing dialogue around the possibilities of the future,” said Doug Shipman, CEO of The Center. “When we connect to others and to their circumstances, that emotional connection often compels us to lend our support, to take action even though we may never know or meet those who are affected.”
To achieve this emotional connection with visitors, the design team immersed themselves in the history of civil and human rights in the United States and around the world. “We looked at the seminal historical events and the public places where individuals and groups gathered – places belonging to everyday people,” said Phil Freelon. “In these public squares, plazas and public parks, citizens from all walks of life came together to show a sense of unity and purpose. Whether locking arms as civil rights marchers in Birmingham or gathering as students seeking human rights in Tiananmen Square, these courageous individuals changed the path of history with their actions.”
With multiple interior and exterior gathering places, The Center provides spaces for visitors to congregate and encourages exploration and a natural flow of people into, through and around the entire site. “The variety of spaces allows for communication around ideas and action through exhibits, performances, poetry readings, lectures and global conferences,” Freelon said.
The idea of congregation is also evident is The Center’s exterior façade. Its sculpted form is defined by two curved walls that embrace the exhibits and programmed spaces within. Clad in architectural panels of varying size, color and transparency, the exterior wall assembly suggests the rich and varied palate that defines humanity and celebrates the power of individuals coming together to achieve a common goal.
Located in the heart of downtown Atlanta, the 42,000 square foot facility is expected to host 400,000 visitors annually. The main entrance faces Pemberton Place, a pedestrian park that connects The Center to adjacent Atlanta cultural destinations including the World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium. The Center is spread across three levels, with gallery and event space on each.
The lower level is anchored by the special gallery dedicated to the Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection, where visitors can view an archive of personal papers and artifacts of Dr. King, including his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. A monumental stair connects the lower level to the main lobby above, leading visitors up to a sweeping balcony overlooking Centennial Olympic Park and downtown Atlanta.
Designed for LEED Gold certification, the building incorporates a high performance exterior wall assembly, state-of-the-art environmental control systems, a green roof and several energy-saving features.
Phil Freelon’s design achievements include cultural, civic, and academic projects for some of America’s most respected cultural institutions. He leads the design team for the $500M Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, now in construction on the National Mall, and is the architect for the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, Emancipation Park in Houston and multiple library projects completed in Washington, DC. Freelon is a presidential appointee to the National Commission of Fine Arts, a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, and recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture.
He is the founder of The Freelon Group, a Research Triangle Park, North Carolina-based firm that recently joined global design firm Perkins+Will. As the Managing and Design Director of Perkins+Will’s North Carolina practice, he leads offices in Research Triangle Park and Charlotte. Freelon also serves on the Board of Directors and the Design Leadership Council.
Other design and construction team members include:
David Rockwell, President and Founder of Rockwell Group, Exhibition Designer
Jill Savitt, Human Rights Exhibition Curator
George C. Wolfe, Chief Creative Officer
Builder: (Joint Venture)
H.J. Russell & Company, C.D. Moody Construction Company and Holder Construction Company
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