Sep 26, 2016
BY: and
THEME: Point of View

In Their Own Words: Phil Freelon and Zena Howard

On September 24th, the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened its doors with a ceremony befitting this historic moment.

The museum, designed by the collaboration known as Freelon Adjaye Bond / SmithGroup JJR—for which Perkins+Will’s Phil Freelon served as lead architect—honors the significant social, economic, and cultural contributions that African Americans have made to this country over the last several centuries.

Image (c) Alan Karchmer

Image (c) Alan Karchmer

“As an African American, and as the lead architect on this project, to know that this vision has become a reality on the National Mall, right in the heart of our nation’s capital and within steps of the Washington Monument, is to realize a magnificent accomplishment,” says Freelon, managing and design director for Perkins+Will’s North Carolina practice. “It’s difficult to find the right words to express my pride—not just in our contributions to the design of this museum, but also in all that the museum represents, and in all that the museum strives to do.”

Freelon has been actively involved in the creation of the museum since 2006. At that time, he began collaborating with the late Max Bond, another preeminent African American architect and a principal of the firm Davis Brody Bond, on the building’s initial planning. This collaboration resulted in a 1,200-page master planning and programming document that laid the groundwork for the museum’s design that we see today. In 2008, The Freelon Group and Davis Brody Bond invited Adjaye Associates and SmithGroup/JJR to join their team for the museum’s international design competition. The then newly-formed Freelon Adjaye Bond / SmithGroup JJR won the competition in 2009, and the site broke ground three years later.

Over the next seven years, The Freelon Group—which became part of Perkins+Will in 2014—was responsible for leading the entire design team and the project’s 28 other consultants to ensure that the design intent and The Smithsonian’s vision for the museum became a reality.

“It’s been many long years in the making, and every moment of bringing this museum to life has been a true labor of love,” says Zena Howard, senior project manager on the NMAAHC and principal at Perkins+Will, who worked full-time on the project for more than 8 years. “As one woman out of the roughly 0.02 percent of female African American architects in this country, and the only black female architect on this project, I feel particularly honored to have had such an integral role in the museum’s creation. It means so much to me.”

Learn more about the opening.

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