Phil and Nnenna Freelon

Renowned architect Phil Freelon is pictured with his wife Nnenna Freelon.

Acclaimed architect Phil Freelon, who was in charge of designing the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture that opened in September 2016 and was the architect of A.L. Stanback middle school, passed away last Tuesday at the age of 66.

Freelon’s death followed a battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, otherwise known as ALS, that began in March 2016. His death was announced on the Facebook page of Northstar Church of the Arts, a Durham church he founded with his wife, Nnenna Freelon.

The church’s Facebook page first reported Freelon’s death Tuesday morning with an accompanying message from his family.

“This morning Philip Goodwin Freelon joined the ancestors,” the message stated. “Renowned architect, photographer, fisherman, husband and father of three, Phil and his wife Nnenna Freelon founded Northstar Church of the Arts in 2018, to be sacred space for healing, arts and spiritual connection.

“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 went on to state that the Freelon family was in the process of planning a memorial service that would take place in the fall. 

Freelon attended Hampton University in Virginia before continuing his education at N.C. State University. He graduated in 1975 with a bachelor of environmental design degree. Freelon then earned his master’s degree in architecture at MIT. He went on to found his own architectural firm, the Freelon Group, in 1990.

According to a news release from MIT which commemorated Freelon’s achievements, the renowned architect also headed projects that included the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture in Baltimore, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture in Charlotte.

Freelon later returned to MIT to teach a course in the master’s in architecture program in 2007 and stayed in the role for nine years. According to the MIT release, he was also an adjunct faculty member at N.C. State’s College of Design and lectured at multiple universities including Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley.

Freelon’s profound effect on the Triangle extended beyond his impact at N.C. State University. His projects in the area included Hillside High School, Durham Bulls Athletic Park, The Hill Center in Durham and Hope Valley Elementary School.

Freelon also left a footprint on the Orange County School district with his work on A.L. Stanback Middle School, which opened in 1995 in Hillsborough. On Friday, the Orange County Schools official Twitter account posted a message paying tribute to Freelon.

“Mr. Phil Freelon passed away this week on July 9th,” the post stated. “He led the team that designed the Smithsonian National African American Museum of History and Culture. And, he was the architect of A.L. Stanback middle school. We are thankful for Mr. Freelon’s contributions to OCS.”

According to the MIT release, “a celebration of his (Freelon’s) life will be held on Sept. 28 at the Durham County Human Services Complex in Durham.”