Phil Freelon Blends Practice and Advocacy

At the Center for Architecture by • 10/29

The fourth annual J. Max Bond, Jr. Lecture brought esteemed practitioner Phil Freelon, FAIA, NOMA, to the podium. The North Carolina-based architect, who studied how to combine advocacy with practice as a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University, has made a career of designing educational and cultural buildings. Toni Griffin, herself a previous J. Max Bond, Jr. lecturer, introduced Freelon’s talk entitled “Conversations: Community,” reflecting Bond’s own ethos in architecture. The projects that followed certainly promoted cultural and civic understanding, from the historic International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina, to Freelon’s current collaboration on the National Museum of African American History and Culture for the Smithsonian Institution.

Showing cultural centers, museums, and libraries, Freelon succinctly described each, followed by the design process and realization of the building. He provided status reports of those under construction, such as Houston’s Emancipation Park and the Smithsonian project in Washington, DC. For the latter, Freelon and Max Bond, FAIA, who were separately scouting the upcoming project, decided to pursue the project jointly. Later, David Adjaye, Hon. FAIA, joined the team, , along with Hal Smith, FAIA, of SmithGroup. The Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup team was a natural, Freelon said, because they all share a similar firm culture. Speaking about the corona topping the Smithsonian design, he declared, “Buildings should be more than just a pretty envelope.” One got the sense that each of his buildings would look good and satisfy deeper design issues.

Two libraries in Washington, DC, demonstrated a design methodology, but not a formula. Both projects examined site and context to yield unique results. One in Tenley-Friendship lifted a sun-shielding wrapper to expose the ground floor, while services lined the solid western wall. The other, in Anacostia, wrapped the sunscreen over pavilions that transitioned the commercial district to the west with the smaller-scale neighborhood to the east. The moves share a common vocabulary, but yield different programmatic and contextual results.

Freelon said the site for the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture in Charlotte, NC, posed one of his more difficult challenges. However, the kernel of the design sprang from the limitations of the 55-foot-wide by 400-foot-long site, which included parking ramp access to an adjacent building. Inspired by stairs in a historical photo and textile patterns, Freelon’s pragmatic planning allowed a poetic response: services along the lengthy party wall, entries at the ends, and public space toward the center, in a dramatic “billboard-like facade.”

However, in discussing the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Freelon warned, “Things can be trite if you’re too forward in transposing an idea to a building.” The center’s initial concept in 2008 had been interlocking arms, as seen at protest demonstrations. As the decade progressed and budget and square footage decreased by a third, and then a third again, Freelon’s team had to keep tweaking the design. “If you keep shrinking the arms you get a crocodile, or a Tyrannosaurus Rex,” he joked. Ultimately, the project ended up as a pair of “hands” holding an atrium – very different from the initial design, but  an expressive public place, nonetheless.

Having started his own firm after completing a “mid-career” Harvard Loeb Fellowship in 1990, Freelon entered a third phase last year, when his firm joined Perkins+Will. When asked what’s next, Freelon easily answered that he is combining his practice’s design and planning prowess with the support of more technical expertise and an expanded geographic network. The profession will certainly be watching.

James Way, Assoc. AIA is Co-chair of the AIANY Marketing and Communications Committee, and a frequent contributor to e-Oculus.

Event: J. Max Bond Jr. Lecture | Conversations: Community with Phil Freelon, FAIA, NOMA
Location: Center for Architecture, 10.26.15
Speaker: Phil Freelon, FAIA, NOMA, Managing and Design Director, Perkins+Will North Carolina; Founder and President, Freelon Group; Toni Griffin, Professor and Director, J. Max Bond Center, Spitzer School of Architecture, City College of New York
Organized by: AIANY Diversity and Inclusion Committee and New York Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (nycobaNOMA)
Sponsored by: Davis Brody Bond

Comments are closed.

Benjamin Prosky, Assoc. AIA, Executive Director, AIANY and Center for Architecture
Archtober Itinerary Word of Mouth
STUDIOS Architecture's winning cake: Zaha Hadid's Heydar Aliyev Center in Azerbaijan.
High-Calorie High Rises: The Great Architectural Bake-Off Reports from the Field
The AIANYS board enjoys an architect-led tour of the Algonquin Building, originally designed by S. Gifford Slocum, during the 2016 AIA New York State Saratoga Design Conference.
In Architecture, Collaboration is Key Reports from the Field
Bruce Fowle, FAIA, LEED AP, accepts the 2016 AIANYS President's Award.
AIA New York State President’s Award: Green is Beautiful Word of Mouth
AIA Presidential Profiles.
AIA Presidential Candidate Profiles Policy Pulse
1 - A New Museum Has Got Lady Liberty’s Back
In the News In The News
Names in the News Names in the News
New Deadlines New Deadlines
"Reading Room: A Catalog of New York City's Branch Libraries," through 01.07.16.
On View On View
10.01.16: Archtober 2016 kicked off its Building of the Day series with a guided tour of Samsung 837, the brand’s digital playground in the Meatpacking District, designed by Gensler (interior), and Morris Adjmi Architects (exterior).
Sighted: Archtober Edition Sighted
Classifieds Classifieds
Archtober 2016 is coming!
Archtober Fast Approaches Editor's Note
Architects, Pick Your Leaders! AIA News You Can Use
David Rockwell, FAIA
Archtober Itinerary: David Rockwell, FAIA Word of Mouth
"Authenticity and Innovation" curator Donald Albrecht.
5 Questions with Donald Albrecht On View
Architects Advocate: Action on Climate Change
Architects Advocate for Climate Change Action Policy Pulse
Recoded City: Co-creating Urban Futures by Thomas Ermacora and Lucy Bullivant
Oculus Book Review: Recoded City: Co-creating Urban Futures Book Reviews
2016 New York Architects’ Regatta Challenge
2016 New York Architects’ Regatta Challenge: More Wind, Please Reports from the Field
1 - Not Super-Tall, but Still Living the High Life
In the News In The News
Names in the News Names in the News
New Deadlines New Deadlines
"Authenticity and Innovation," opening 09.30.16
On View On View
Classifieds Classifieds
Renovations at the Center From the Executive Director
Archtober kicked off at Samsung 837, Building of the Day #1.
Archtober’s Cool Kick-Off Reports from the Field
Second Annual AIA I Look Up Film Challenge
People’s Choice: Vote for the AIA I Look Up Film Challenge AIA News You Can Use
New York City’s Energy and Water Use 2013 Report.
New Energy Report Highlights Architects’ Role Policy Pulse
Partners in Design: Alfred H. Barr Jr. and Philip Johnson
Partners in Design: Alfred H. Barr Jr. and Philip Johnson In Memoriam
John Belle, FAIA (1932-2016)
In Memoriam: John Belle, FAIA (1932-2016) In Memoriam
1 - Design for Final Piece of WTC Master Plan Revealed
In the News In The News
Names in the News Names in the News
09.23.16: Call for Entries: AIANY COTE Awards 2016
New Deadlines New Deadlines
Reading Room: A Catalog of New York City's Branch Libraries
On View On View
09.12.16: At the September Oculus Book Talk, Lucy Bullivant, Ph.D., Hon. FRIBA, Founder and Creative Director of, discussed her latest book, Recoded City: Co-creating Urban Futures, co-authored with Thomas Ermarcora. Following her talk, she was joined in a panel, moderated by William Menking, Editor-in-Chief, The Architect’s Newspaper, with Adam Lubinsky, PhD, Managing Principal, WXY architecture + urban design, and Alex Alaimo, Assoc. AIA, Founder, ORLI.
Sighted Sighted
Classifieds Classifieds
Tweet-for-Treat! We'll be at Samsung 837 on 98.29.16 giving away free ice cream!
Archtober Tweet-for-Treat! Editor's Note
Borinquen Court affordable and senior housing center in The Bronx, by Red Top Architects.
Aging in Place Policy Pulse
A rendering of J. MAYER H. und Partner, Architekten's latest project, XXX TIMES SQUARE WITH LOVE.
Jürgen Mayer H. Speaks on Reactivating Public Space in Times Square and Beyond At the Center for Architecture
FIGMENT: What Is This? Why Is Nothing for Sale? Why Is Everyone Smiling? by David Koren.
Oculus Book Review: FIGMENT: What Is This? Why Is Nothing for Sale? Why Is Everyone Smiling? Book Reviews
Dark Space: Architecture, Representation, Black Identity by Mario Gooden, AIA.
Oculus Podcast: Dark Space: Architecture, Representation, Black Identity Podcast
1 - Grafting an Expansion on a Landmark
In the News In The News
Names in the News Names in the News
The AIANY COTE Awards recognize results-oriented achievements in the urban context. Deadline 09.16.15
New Deadlines New Deadlines
“EXTRA-ORDINARY: New Practices in Chilean Architecture,” through 09.03.16.
On View On View
Classifieds Classifieds
Lower Manhattan Then map.
Mapping Lower Manhattan Center News
“Tentolana” by Tom Krizmanic
Imagining Olana’s Summer House Reports from the Field
AIA New York State’s 2016 Design Conference
Come, Collaborate: AIANYS 2016 Design Conference AIA News You Can Use
DOB NOW Continues Expansion Policy Pulse
Malik Knight, a second-year student at Philadelphia University, volunteered to assist students in developing their projects over the two week studio.
When Does the Education of an Architect Begin? Learning by Design