Durham architect picked by Smithsonian

April 15, 2009 5:07:11 PM PDT
A Durham architect whose work you see everyday all over the Triangle is now looking forward to what he calls the opportunity of a lifetime. The Smithsonian institute has chosen Phil Freelon to build the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in the heart of Washington, D.C.

Eyewitness News reporter Tim Nelson sat down with Freelon who says he's still on cloud nine after his team beat out five other finalists from across the globe for the honor and the challenge to come.

It's not the first major project for Freelon's firm. The Bulls ballpark, RDU's Terminal Two, and Durham's new transportation station are just a small sampling of his work here in the Triangle. He's also responsible for the Charlotte Bobcats arena and Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco.

Now, the humbled architect is about to embark on a project that will put him on the national stage, and it's all starting to sink in.

"The work really begins; this is the beginning and not the end. So we're very excited about the work to come," Freelon said.

The design includes a stunning bronze crown atop the building.

"That form is moving upward and outward in a gesture of celebration," Freelon explained.

Freelon says the building aims to be, in his words, exuberant but dignified.

"We felt that the building could be celebratory because the experience is both difficult at times some of the history but also stories of redemption and joy and jubilation," he said.

And when finished, the museum won't just be in D.C. It'll be on some very prime property, occupying the last open space on the National Mall. It'll be just about 800 feet from the Washington Monument."

The location is significant. So too, Freelon says, is the museum's message and his mission for it.

"Making a museum that is accessible, that is open to all, that is about the quintessential American story. The African-American story is part of the bigger story," he told Nelson.

Freelon is hoping to break ground on the project in 2012 and the museum is supposed to open up in 2015. It's estimated to cost five hundred million dollars. There's other good news too. Freelon had to lay off a handful of staff recently because of the economic downturn. He says he now may be able to hire some folks back.


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