Philip G. Freelon, FAIA, The Freelon Group

While some African-American architects feel that they are straddling the fault line of the racial divide, Philip Freelon, founding partner of The Freelon Group, embraces the notion of working and competing within the mainstream architecture profession. He believes that the vocabulary and palette of contemporary American architecture is rich enough to allow for the appropriate interpretation of most building programs. Freelon chooses to address his client’s desires for “appropriate” solutions as he applies Modern design principles.

Freelon’s parents and grandparents were well-educated and gave him a deep appreciation of Modern design. His own education was at Hampton, N.C. State, MIT, and the Harvard GSD, where he was a Loeb Fellow.

In his first 12 years in practice, he was an associate at 3D/I and, at O’Brien/Atkins Associates in Research Triangle Park, N.C. vice president of architecture and the youngest shareholder. With his own firm, he has received 23 AIA design awards at the regional, state and local levels.

When clients visit his offices in the Research Triangle Park, NC, they see the diversity. He presently has a combined staff of 51; 30 percent are people of color. While Freelon concedes he has been more fortunate than many African-American architects regarding commissions from corporate clients, much of the firm’s work still comes from the public sector, and that trying to do innovative work on a limited budget is a challenge.

Freelon incorporates African images or symbolism on buildings, only where appropriate, he says: “My roots are in Africa and the branches and leaves grew in America.” He uses jazz as a comparison, where the use of instruments was reconceived to express freedom and creativity.