Architect Phil Freelon, design director of Perkins&Will’s North Carolina practice, has been named the 2017 Architect of the Year by Fast Company. In a full-length feature story about Phil’s personal life and remarkable career, published today on Co.Design, Phil is heralded as “America’s Humanitarian Architect” for his architectural, educational, and social contributions to diversity, inclusion, and equality.
The following excerpt sets the stage for the captivating narrative that Fast Company recounts:
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 NMAAHC, 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.
But in addition to designing spaces that celebrate diversity, Freelon is trying to design diversity and inclusivity into the very profession of architecture – which is stubbornly male and pale. It’s why Freelon is visiting a school where 100% of the students are from low-income and/or minority families to talk about his work; why, earlier that same week, he spoke to his grandson’s second-grade class. By getting children interested in architecture at an early age, Freelon hopes to infuse his profession with a wealth of perspectives and voices.
It has been a busy year of accolades and accomplishments for Freelon, which included another high-profile recognition from Fast Company in May as one of the world’s Most Creative People in business. Earlier this month, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi, whose design Freelon oversaw, opened its doors to national acclaim. In November, he met the first recipient of the inaugural Phil Freelon Fellowship at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design – a fellowship that he was instrumental in creating in 2016 along with Perkins&Will and the GSD. In October, Freelon was awarded the State of North Carolina’s highest civilian honor, the 2017 North Carolina Award, for his contributions to the state and nation in the field of fine arts. That same month, the National Museum of African American History and Culture – for which Freelon was the lead architect – debuted on U.S. Postal Service Forever® Stamps. In August, the new Gregg Museum of Art & Design at North Carolina State University in Raleigh opened to the public, and in June, Historic Emancipation Park in Houston, Texas celebrated its grand reopening following an extensive renovation; Freelon oversaw the design of both of those projects.
In another excerpt from today’s article, Perkins&Will CEO Phil Harrison describes the importance of Freelon’s role at Perkins&Will and in the field of architecture:
“Phil Freelon is a gentle giant of an architect,” Phil Harrison, Perkins&Will’s CEO, says. “He possesses an extremely uncommon combination of ambition, talent, and verve, while also being open, kind, and generous. He is a brilliant gentleman. Phil touches Perkins&Will at every level – a strong voice on our board of directors, our design board, and our research board. At the same time, he makes himself available to mentor Perkins and Will staff and others outside of the firm – the junior and the experienced alike. His designs speak for themselves and are some of the most exciting work coming out of Perkins&Will. I’m delighted to be able to call Phil my partner.”