Phil Freelon, who designed the Smithsonian African-American history museum, dies at 66

Posted at 2:16 PM, Jul 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-09 16:42:17-04

Phil Freelon, who is best known as the architect of the Smithsonian’s African-American history museum in Washington, has died. He was 66.

Freelon died Tuesday, daughter-in-law Kate Sheppard said. He had been diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, in 2016.

In addition to designing the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Freelon was the mastermind behind Atlanta’s National Center for Civil and Human Rights and San Francisco’s Museum of the African Diaspora.

Former President Barack Obama appointed him to the US Commission of Fine Arts in 2011.

Freelon and his wife, Nnenna, founded the Northstar Church of the Arts in Durham, North Carolina, in 2018. The family posted on its website that it is planning a memorial service in the fall.

“In lieu of flowers, Phil has asked that those who want to honor his legacy become sustaining donors of Northstar Church of the Arts, so that the same creative and spiritual energies that nurtured him throughout his life, may positively impact others, especially in his adopted home of Durham, North Carolina,” the post says.

Freelon earned his bachelor of environmental design degree in architecture from North Carolina State University and his master’s of architecture degree from MIT. He served as managing director of Perkins+Will’s North Carolina offices after his architect group was acquired by the global firm in 2014.

He was awarded North Carolina’s highest civilian honor, the 2017 North Carolina Award, for his contributions to the state and nation’s fine arts.

“From his work on the world-renowned Smithsonian Museum of African-American History to his advocacy for the arts, Phil Freelon’s impact on our country and our state will be missed,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper wrote on Twitter.

Freelon is survived by his wife and three children.