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Telling African American Stories Through Architectural Design is Focus of New Exhibition

The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture will be the first museum to present an exhibition about the North Carolina architect Phil Freelon (1953-2019). Created by faculty and students in the UNC Charlotte School of Architecture, Container/Contained: Phil Freelon - Design Strategies for Telling African American Stories opens at the Gantt Center on Friday, October 29 and will remain on view through January 17, before traveling to the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh.

Philip G. Freelon had a remarkable career of more than four decades designing public buildings with his firm The Freelon Group and later as design director of Perkins + Will North Carolina. In addition to the Gantt Center, his vast legacy includes the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, Emancipation Park in Houston, and the forthcoming North Carolina Freedom Park in Raleigh. Perhaps most notably, he also led the design team for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

“Phil Freelon’s design for the Gantt Center was genius,” said David Taylor, President & CEO of the cultural center. “The building, itself, tells the story of the once-thriving Brooklyn neighborhood which was razed in the 1960s and serves as an homage to that neighborhood and the resilience of the Black community. We are pleased to partner with UNC Charlotte to debut this exhibition.”

Freelon often noted that architecture should be more than a container, that it should help tell the story of and be integral to the content of these public institutions. The culmination of more than two years of research led by Dr. Emily Makas, an architectural history professor and the associate director of the UNC Charlotte School of Architecture, Container/Contained demonstrates the way the buildings and spaces that Freelon designed express African American culture and identity. The exhibition critically examines Freelon’s public work, including museums, libraries, cultural centers, and public parks, and analyzes connections between the forms, materials, and meanings of the projects and the histories and communities they celebrate.

"I have been honored to engage in this examination of Phil Freelon's work on architecture and identity and for our architecture students to have the opportunity to learn about his legacy and share it with the community,” said Makas. “A project like this brings together many partners, and we are excited to work with the Gantt Center for the exhibition premiere and related programming. We are also grateful for assistance from Perkins + Will and for the extensive support from the University in the development of this exhibition."

After Container/Contained closes at the Gantt, it will travel to the North Carolina Museum of Art, opening February 6, 2022.

About the UNC Charlotte School of Architecture

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the School of Architecture at UNC Charlotte serves more than 300 undergraduate and graduate students in five degree programs, representing architecture, urban design, and computational design. In its first five decades, the program’s roughly 2,500 architecture alumni have shaped Charlotte, the New South region, and beyond. The School of Architecture is recognized for the expertise of its faculty, a commitment to outreach and community involvement, and the quality and extent of resources offered through labs, studios, and classrooms – both at UNC Charlotte's main campus and The Dubois Center at UNC Charlotte Center City in uptown Charlotte. Learn more at

About Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture

The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture is a multi-disciplinary arts institution located in the heart of Charlotte, North Carolina. Founded in 1974, the Gantt Center’s mission is to present, preserve and celebrate excellence in the art, history and culture of African-Americans and those of African descent through visual and literary arts, dance music, film, educational programs, theatre productions and community outreach. The Gantt Center features fine art exhibitions from around the world and is home to the nationally celebrated John and Vivian Hewitt Collection of African-American Art, which was generously donated by Bank of America, and is accessible online.

Named for Charlotte civic leader and former mayor Harvey Bernard Gantt, the Gantt Center is housed in an inspired and distinguished award-winning structure designed by architect Philip Freelon, co-designer of the new Smithsonian National Museum for African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). For more information about the Gantt Center and the Initiative for Equity + Innovation, visit

Posted on Wednesday, September 29, 2021

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