Museum News

Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III Statement on the Passing of Phil Freelon, Lead Architect of the National Museum of African American History and Culture

July 10, 2019

The Smithsonian Institution’s secretary and founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture today released the following statement on the passing of renowned architect, Philip Freelon. Freelon was the lead architect for the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Freelon and Max Bond worked with the museum in its earliest stages to develop the programmatic ideas that informed the design of the museum.

“The passing of Phil Freelon is a moment of deep sadness for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture,” said Lonnie G. Bunch III. “Phil’s reach was broad and national in scope. With a specialty in cultural institutions, he designed the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture in Baltimore, the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, the Harvey Gantt Center in Charlotte, Emancipation Park in Houston, the Anacostia and Tenleytown branches of the DC Public Library System, and the Durham County Human Services Complex.

“A successful entrepreneur, Phil opened his firm, The Freelon Group, in 1990 and served as its leader until 2014 when his firm merged with Perkins+Will. The Freelon Group partnered with DavisBrodyBond (becoming FreelonBond) to complete the programming document for the National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2008. In 2009, Phil partnered with three other firms to create the FreelonAdayeBond/SmithGroup architectural team, which won the juried design competition for the museum. In this partnership, Phil Freelon served as the architect of record. The museum received Leed Gold certification.

“Phil was considered one of the great architects of our time. 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.

“His work extended well beyond the field of architecture to include painting and fine art photography. He exhibited widely in art galleries and museums.

“The museum is honored to tell his story. In 2017, the Museum acquired the Philip G. Freelon Archive, a collection of documents, ephemera, photographs, and artifacts about his life and career.  Included in the collection are original sketches by Freelon; design proposals for major projects; an identification card from his days as an architecture student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); and other professional and personal memorabilia. A portion of the collection was displayed at the museum in 2018, in Recent Acquisitions: Architects’ Archives.

I am deeply saddened by the loss of my friend and colleague, Phil Freelon. Though, our hearts are heavy, they are filled with appreciation for his vision, his passion and his love for our museum. His work brought to the National Mall a bold, new statement of elegance and dignity. Phil once said, ‘the museum is more than a building; it is a sacred place that houses the spirit and the dreams of our ancestors.’ Phil Freelon will forever have a permanent place in the story of this museum.

Lonnie G. Bunch III Smithsonian Institution Secretary and Founding Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture

A link to images from the collection of Phil Freelon is available. A collection story on the museum’s website features five architects including Freelon.

About the National Museum of African American History and Culture 
Since opening Sept. 24, 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture has welcomed more than 6 million visitors. Occupying a prominent location next to the Washington Monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the nearly 400,000-square-foot museum is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural destination devoted exclusively to exploring, documenting and showcasing the African American story and its impact on American and world history. For more information about the museum, visit nmaahc.si.edu, follow @NMAAHC on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, or call Smithsonian information at (202) 633-1000.

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Media Contact(s): 

Jermaine House (202) 633-9495; housej@si.edu
Lindsey Koren (202) 633-4052; korenl@si.edu

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The National Museum of African American History and Culture will be a place where all Americans can learn about the richness and diversity of the African American experience, what it means to their lives and how it helped us shape this nation. A place that transcends the boundaries of race and culture that divide us, and becomes a lens into a story that unites us all.