Phil Freelon

Bringing History to Life

In his office in Durham, N.C., architect Phil Freelon displays diagrams and renderings of the current design of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. The NC State alumnus leads a team of 32 consultants designing the museum, which will occupy one of the last building sites on the National Mall, adjacent to the Washington Monument, when it opens in 2015.

The $500 million project will be the first national museum dedicated to chronicling and celebrating African-American history and culture. It will include artifacts as diverse as a powder horn owned by an African-American who fought in the American Revolution and guitarist Bo Diddley’s trademark hat.

It’s a project that dovetails with the goals Freelon has always tried to achieve.

“We have a standard that says the building should contribute positively to the community in which it’s built,” Freelon says.

His firm specializes in cultural museums, educational buildings and other projects that tell stories. “In our measure, libraries, museums and educational buildings do that. And prisons and strip shopping centers don’t.”

Freelon and his team have worked hard to satisfy the museum’s design demands. But while Freelon believes this project is a pinnacle for him, he also views it as an integral part of his professional evolution.

“I’m here not to get to a certain destination,” he says, “but to make sure the journey and the path is a meaningful one and that at the end of the day, we’ve made a positive impact.”