Phil Freelon, NC State grad who designed National Museum of African American History, dies at 67

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Philip Freelon, a graduate of N.C. State University and designer of the National Museum of African American History, has died at the age of 67, his family confirmed Tuesday.

The Philadelphia native was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2016.

Freelon spoke with CBS 17 in 2017 about his life and accomplishments. You can read that story here.

Freelon led an architecture firm in Research Triangle Park, but his work is spread throughout North Carolina and the nation.

Locally, his work is seen at the Durham Bulls athletic park, parking structure at Raleigh-Durham Airport, and the Durham County Health and Human Services complex downtown.

He’s also designed cultural sites in San Francisco, Atlanta, Houston and most recently Washington, with the Smithsonian’s latest, The National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The N.C. State University School of Design graduate told CBS 17 in 2017 that he liked to design experiences not just buildings, something he feels he’s accomplished with NMAAHC.

“We think a building of that type that’s talking about culture and history should help to convey the message not simply to be a container for exhibits and artifacts,” he said.

The African-American architect adds, “This was our people, a very important building on the mall, but we were prepared.”

His firm teamed up with other prominent black architects to beat out hundreds of bids to design the museum, an achievement he holds with pride.

His wife, Nneenna, is a six-time Grammy-nominated artist. They have three children together.

Rep G. K. Butterfield (NC-01) issued the following statement on the passing of Freelon:

“I was greatly saddened to learn of the passing of a man of great vision and talent, North Carolina’s own, Phil Freelon. Well-known for his architectural genius, creating projects across the country with a targeted focus on the story-telling of the African American experience; he was able to culminate some of his greatest work as he thoughtfully and solemnly crowned the expanse of the black experience through his vision and execution of the widely popular Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. A celebrated architect, artist, husband and father, Phil Freelon will forever be immortalized by his incredible contributions to the state of North Carolina, his indelible mark left throughout the city of Durham and his monumental impact that continues its far and wide reach. Phil Freelon was a true treasure who will be dearly missed, but never forgotten.” 

The City of Durham tweeted about Freelon’s passing.

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