Phil Freelon (1953-2019)

Principal, Design Director, North Carolina

Phil 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.

“Bringing design excellence to the spaces people use every day is my passion, particularly for public buildings.”
As Lead Architect of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Phil contemplates in this video what it meant to have been part of American history in the creation and realization of the Museum.
The mural at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights pays homage to the graphics of rights movements.
“Architecture is inspirational when it expresses the unique aspirations and ideals of the community it serves. It can embody a collective passion, express civic pride, and symbolize common values.”
A Walk to Remember

When Phil was five or six years old, he went for a walk in the woods with his grandfather. Surrounded by nature, the two sat down side-by-side on a log, and his grandfather instructed him to close his eyes, be present, and “see” his surroundings by listening. This was a defining moment for Phil: for the first time, he became acutely aware of the connection between the physical environment and the human experience. Years later, this memory would inform his design philosophy—that every project should create a positive, uplifting experience for the people who use it.

Exploring the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, with insights from Phil; Hon. Shirley Franklin (Board Member, former Mayor of Atlanta); and Doug Shipman (former Director of the Center, Board Member).
A tireless advocate for equity and inclusion, Phil was committed to opening the architecture profession to a more diverse workforce.
The Phil Freelon Fellowship Fund at the Harvard Graduate School of Design expands academic opportunities for African American and other under-represented architecture and design students.
Phil and his family established a nonprofit art and culture center, North Star Church of the Arts, in the heart of Durham. The inclusive space provides a welcoming, safe, and vibrant environment for city residents to share art in all forms.

Phil's Featured Work

Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture
Charlotte, North Carolina
National Center for Civil and Human Rights
Atlanta, Georgia
Tenley-Friendship Neighborhood Library
Washington, D.C.
Durham County Human Services Complex
Durham, North Carolina
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Washington, D.C.
Historic Emancipation Park
Houston, Texas