“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,” says 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.”
Much of Freelon’s and Howard’s award-winning architecture highlights the contributions of African Americans to American history and culture. The pair led the four-firm architectural team that designed the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Now, they hope to continue using their work to inspire thoughtful, constructive dialogue—acknowledging the highs and lows of the nation’s past and present while setting the stage for a hopeful, positive future.
Phil Freelon, FAIA and Zena Howard, AIA photographed in front of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Since its opening on September 24, more than 582,000 people have visited the new Smithsonian Museum on the National Mall.
“Understanding the lessons of the past is the first step toward a more tolerant and harmonious America,” says Howard. “As architects and designers, we believe we can help bridge divides by using the built environment to promote community and mutual understanding.”
Howard, Freelon, and their colleagues at Perkins+Will are currently working on a number of projects around the country that both celebrate and raise awareness about African American history:
Historic Emancipation Park in Houston, Texas: 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 iconic building design is positioned adjacent to its sister institution, the Museum of Mississippi History. The two museums share a common lobby and heritage.
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, a new recording studios, an improved retail experience, a café, and meeting spaces. The new Museum campus will have a transformative impact on the community and the region, serving as an important economic and social catalyst for new investment, job creation, social and community engagement, and international tourism.
Brooklyn Village in Charlotte, North Carolina: Perkins+Will, in partnership with The Conformity Corporation, The Peebles Corporation, and Stantec Architecture and Engineering, will provide urban planning and design for one of the largest and most culturally-significant community development initiatives in the U.S. 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.
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