Philip Freelon, lead architect for Smithsonian African American Museum, Dies at 66

Philip Freelon helped design the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a monumental steel-framed structure worthy of its prominent home on the National Mall. (Photo: Michael Barnes)

Architect Philip Freelon passed away Tuesday after a long fight with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. Freelon served as lead architect for the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) on Washington's National Mall, a 2017 IDEAS2 Awards winner. He died at the age of 66 in his home in Durham, N.C.

Freelon was born on March 26, 1953, in Philadelphia to parents Allan and Elizabeth Neal Freelon. He credited his early curiosity about the arts and design to his grandfather, Allan Randall Freelon, Sr., the Harlem Renaissance-era painter. He earned a bachelor's degree in environmental design from North Carolina State University and a master's degree in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In 1990, he formed the Freelon Group, a firm known for its work on college campuses, libraries, museums, and other cultural projects, and many of his contributions to architecture are located in historically black areas. In addition to the NMAAHC, Freelon's long list of notable credits include the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson. Freelon merged his firm with Perkins+Will in 2014.

"Phil was considered one of the great architects of our time," said Lonnie G. Bunch III, the founding director of the NMAAHC and secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. "In 2011, President Obama appointed him to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. He was also a fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA). His work has and continues to influence a generation of architects."

Read the New York Times article remembering Philip Freelon here.