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Container / Contained: Phil Freelon - Design Strategies for Telling African-American Stories

Image credits: © Mark Herboth Photography. Courtesy of Perkins & Will.

  • About This Exhibition

    The late North Carolina architect Philip G. Freelon (1953-2019) had a remarkable career of over four decades designing public buildings with his firm The Freelon Group and later as Design Director of Perkins + Will North Carolina.

    This exhibition critically examines Freelon’s work, including museums, libraries, cultural centers, and public parks, with a focus on projects that foreground African-American communities and identities. 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.

    To explore the relationship between the “container” and the “contained” in Freelon’s architecture, this exhibition documents and analyzes connections between the forms, materials, and meanings of the projects and the histories and cultures they celebrate.

    Roots, Concept, Skin

    Freelon and his team drew on histories of neighborhoods, connections to communities, and African pasts to create designs rooted firmly in place and time. For Freelon, activism and celebration of heritage are subtly present in the work. African-American identity is explored through cultural relevance, connections, and the historical rootedness of the designs.

    Freelon frequently employed expressive formal concepts that link architecture to the institutions contained within. He was a master of visual symbolism and intentional design metaphors that are thought-provoking and reference culture and history.

    Freelon’s work explored the multiple functions and meanings of skin – as both a protective covering and a visual form of identification. In his designs for African-American communities and institutions, Freelon expanded the idea of skin with complex building envelopes that explored the use of color, pattern, and material.

    Phil Freelon: An American Story

  • About the Curatorial Team

    This exhibition was researched, curated, and designed by a team of faculty and students from the School of Architecture at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

    The team was led by Dr. Emily Makas, an architectural historian whose work focuses on connections between memory and identity and the built environment. She explores the relationships between memorials, museums, heritage, and identities and has pursued public history projects on race and history in Charlotte and beyond. She co-led the curatorial team for the “Legacy of Lynching” exhibition at the Levine Museum of the New South that brought to light the history of lynching in Mecklenburg County.

    Professor Greg Snyder is craftsman whose research explores acts of making and construction and the phenomena and meaning that accrue in and around these acts. His current projects include an investigation of furnishings as expandable environments and alternative ways to employ standardized building systems and catalogue componentry. He has worked on numerous exhibitions of his own work and the works of others.

    Teaching Fellow and former Graduate Research Assistant Fernando Claudio Rodriguez has served as project manager for the exhibition. His research establishes connections between modern technological advances and passive architectural strategies. He also has worked on a number of exhibitions. Architecture students Sierra Grant and Emma Lineberger played leadership roles in the design, layout, research, and writing for the exhibition.

    Additional students that contributed to the exhibition include:

    Abena Atiemo
    Bri Boyd
    Alyssa Brady
    Kelly Byas
    Sheriyth Cain
    Makenzie Elam
    Jacob Ellerbrock
    Quinton Frederick
    Lindie Fredericks
    Elijah Gibson

    Hannah Guffey
    Nejla Harris
    Nicholas Jensen
    Alexus Jones
    Tahlya Mock
    Emmanuel Martin
    Chia Omothoto
    Kat Tyson
    Shelby Whiteash
    Elijah Willis


  • Exhibition Supporters

    This exhibition was made possible by support from UNC Charlotte’s School of Architecture, College of Arts + Architecture, Chancellor’s Diversity Grant Program, and Office of Undergraduate Research, as well as from Perkins & Will.

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