Durham architect designs national black history museum
Posted February 23, 2012
Updated February 24, 2012
Washington — For most architects, designing a building so important the president attends the groundbreaking could only be a dream.
For Phil Freelon, it was Wednesday at the groundbreaking for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.
"There is a sense of turning the earth that makes it snap into today's real time," Freelon said.
Freelon found out almost three years ago that his firm, in collaboration with some others, had won a design competition for the museum.
"For me, as an African-American, it's part of our heritage and so being involved is an honor and a privilege," Freelon said.
Freelon graduated from North Carolina State University, before heading to MIT for graduate work and a career that eventually brought him to Durham to build his 55 person firm, the Freelon Group.
"It feels like we've been preparing for this our whole careers," he said.
The museum, which opens in 2015, could be one of the last built at the National Mall, and Freelon wants it to be a place where everyone feels welcome to learn about the African-American story.
"The stories of, yes, struggle, persecution and so on, but also the triumphs and the jubilation of the African American experience will come through in the building and the exhibits," Freelon said. "(So,) that everyone can find something worthwhile and inspiring when they go there."
Freelon will soon start seeing his design take shape.
"It is a big moment when you know that the child is about to be birthed in a short period of time, relatively speaking. When the construction starts, it really does add a sense of reality to the project," he said.
Freelon is married to singer Nnenna Freelon who has been nominated for six Grammy Awards.