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4 upcoming projects will celebrate African-American history

Architects Phil Freelon and Zena Howard of Perkins + Will’s North Carolina practice are at the helm

A shot showing the top two layers of a bronze clad museum with the Washington Monument, a tall obelisk, in the background.
The newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Two of its lead architects—Zena Howard and Phil Freelon (director of Perkins + Will’s North Carolina practice), yesterday announced four projects that will celebrate black contributions to U.S. culture.
Photo by André Chung

Black History Month kicked off yesterday, February 1, and two architects are honoring it by announcing four upcoming projects set to focus on African-American contributions to U.S. culture.

Architects Phil Freelon, director of the architecture firm Perkins + Will’s North Carolina practice, and Zena Howard led the four-firm team that designed the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., along with British architect David Adjaye, and the late J. Max Bond (for the project, they operated under the name Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup).

In a press release, Freelon and Howard expressed their thoughts on the importance of architecture and its ability to bring people and communities together.

“What has been happening in the U.S. for the last 24 months reminds me of the social and political upheaval of the late 1960s,” said Freelon. “It is critical that we as a nation see past our differences, focus on our commonalities, and unite to advance a single, shared cause: equality for all Americans.”

Howard continued: “Understanding the lessons of the past is the first step toward a more tolerant and harmonious America. As architects and designers, we believe we can help bridge divides by using the built environment to promote community and mutual understanding.”

Here’s a brief look at the four projects that Freelon, Howard, and their colleagues at the firm are currently working on across the country. Each aims to celebrate and raise awareness about African-American history in the United States.

Historic Emancipation Park in Houston, Texas

Images via Perkins + Will

Located on land purchased in 1872 by four men who were formerly enslaved, Emancipation Park is the site of the longest-running celebration of Juneteenth, the annual commemoration of the ending of slavery in the U.S.

Perkins+Will’s revitalization of the 10-acre park in Houston’s Third Ward neighborhood includes a new recreation center and entry plaza, renovations to two historic buildings (a community center and an old pool house), and refurbished landscapes and playgrounds.

Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi

Opening in December 2017, this new 70,000-sq. ft. cultural and educational venue is the nation’s first state-sponsored civil rights museum. Exhibits will focus on the period from 1945 to 1970, chronicling the stories of African-American Mississippians whose struggle for equal rights under the law had a landmark impact on the national consciousness.

The Motown Museum in Detroit, Michigan

Perkins+Will (in collaboration with Hamilton Anderson Associates and Gallagher & Associates) is designing a major expansion of the iconic Hitsville U.S.A.—home of Motown Records. The design includes 50,000 square feet of new space for interactive exhibits, a state-of-the art performance theater, new recording studios, an improved retail experience, a café, and meeting spaces.

Charlotte Second Ward Brooklyn Village Neighborhood in Charlotte, North Carolina

Brooklyn Village in Charlotte’s Second Ward will revitalize the former African American community of Brooklyn—razed in the mid-20th century as part of “urban renewal” policy—to connect the lively history and culture of its historic population with modern Second Ward streetscapes, buildings, and public spaces.

In November, the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) announced the Philip Freelon Fellowship, which will support African-Americans and other students of color who are pursuing advanced degrees at the GSD.