Phil Freelon, the Durham, North Carolina–based architect who helped design the monumental National Museum of African American History and Culture, has died at age 66. The cause was complications from ALS.
Freelon founded his firm, The Freelon Group, almost 30 years ago. He was best known for his most recent project, his work on the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) with J. Max Bond, Jr., principal of New York’s Davis Brody Bond, and David Adjaye, principal of London’s Adjaye Associates. The D.C. museum opened in 2016 to rave reviews of both the building and exhibitions on the history of African Americans and African American life. The structure is clad in tessellated cast-aluminum panel inspired by patterns made by black artisans in the New Orleans and Charleston, while the form echos a crown and a group raising their arms in celebration.
The Freelon Group also completed projects like Atlanta’s National Center for Civil and Human Rights and Houston’s Emancipation Park, the News & Observer reported. The Freelon Group was acquired by Perkins+Will in 2016, and Freelon joined the firm as a principal and design director in North Carolina.
Friends, family, and colleagues took to social media to remember Freelon:
Such sad news. Phil Freelon was a visionary genius who gave us so many artistic gifts. Prayers for @OfficialNnenna and his family. I remember this pic from the media walkthrru at @Nmaahc while still under construction. Just look at his pride. Rest in Power pic.twitter.com/i3fFj7VM8H
— Michele Norris (@michele_norris) July 9, 2019
My father-in-law, Phil Freelon, made his transition today. ALS may have cut his time here short, but we are so grateful for everything he gave as a father, grandfather, architect and humanitarian. He lives on in his buildings and his legacy: https://t.co/4IJUXGl44n
— Kate Sheppard (@kate_sheppard) July 9, 2019
Phil Freelon, the architect of the African-American History Museum (and many others as well), has died.
— David A. Graham (@GrahamDavidA) July 9, 2019
A brilliant mind. Incredible architect and esteemed designer. One of my biggest influences. I am grateful for the many opportunities I had to meet you and discuss your inspirational buildings and moving projects. Rest Well Mr. Phil Freelon. pic.twitter.com/siVUER57a4
— Cheryl Dixon (@CherylDDesign) July 9, 2019
Most recently, Freelon and his wife, Nnenna, a Grammy-nominated jazz singer, unveiled their renovation of the NorthStar Church of the Arts, a house of worship and space for creative activities in Durham. In a message on NorthStar’s website, the Freelon family requested the bereaved donate to the church in lieu of buying flowers.