Design of the NMAAHC | FREELON
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Phil Freelon, FAIA
Lead Architect


Known for imaginative design and thoughtful collaboration, Phil Freelon practices architecture that engages the community and advances the social fabric. He leads the Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup team of architects working with The Smithsonian Institution on the design of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Founder of The Freelon Group, Phil’s design achievements include cultural, civic and academic buildings produced for some of America’s most respected institutions. He is the design architect for the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, the Harvey B. Gantt Center in Charlotte, Emancipation Park in Houston, and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore.


In 2014, Phil and his firm joined global architecture and design firm Perkins+Will. Phil is Managing Director and Design Director of the Perkins+Will North Carolina Practice in Research Triangle Park (RTP) and Charlotte, and a leader in the firm’s internationally-acclaimed Civic + Cultural Practice.


Phil is a recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture, a presidential appointee to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA) and a faculty member at MIT’s School of Architecture + Planning. He is a recipient of the AIA North Carolina’s Gold Medal, the association’s highest individual honor.
A native of Philadelphia, PA, Phil earned his Bachelor of Environmental Design degree in Architecture from North Carolina State University and his Master of Architecture degree from MIT.  Phil also received a Loeb Fellowship and spent a year of independent study at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.  He has served as an adjunct faculty member at North Carolina State University’s College of Design and has lectured at Harvard, MIT, the University of Maryland, Syracuse University, Auburn University, the University of Utah, the University of California – Berkeley, Kent State University and the New Jersey Institute of Technology, among others.

Zena Howard, AIA
Managing Principal


Zena Howard has over 20 years of experience as an architect and project leader with a career focused on private and public institutions, museums, cultural facilities, libraries, and higher education facilities.  Zena has led many significant and award-winning projects around the country.  More specifically, her experience includes diverse buildings and clients with specialized and/or unique design goals such as environmentally sensitive exhibit areas, historically and culturally significant buildings and locations, and resilient and sustainable design in pursuit of LEED certification and other high performance building goals.  Her deep experience coupled with her strong, authentic communication ability and style have allowed her to effectively lead large, complex, or otherwise challenging projects to successful completion.


Zena is the Senior Project Manager for the Smithsonian Institution’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture.  As project leader for the past six years, she is the point person executing Smithsonian’s multiple decades of planning and investment in this important national museum.  Zena has led the team of 4 architectural firms and 29 consultants from pre-design, through design, construction documentation and fast-track construction.  Her role includes coordinating and interfacing directly with stakeholder and regulatory agencies and commissions, the multi-headed owner and user groups, the exhibit design team, the Construction Manager, and the exhibit fabricator.


Zena joined The Freelon Group in 2003, advancing to the level of Principal and Owner by 2012.  In 2014, The Freelon Group joined forces with the global architecture and design firm Perkins+Will where she continues her leadership as a Principal with the North Carolina practice and as a member of the firm’s global Diversity + Inclusion Council.


Zena is a native of North Carolina and earned her undergraduate degree in Architecture from the University of Virginia.  She currently serves on the North Carolina State University School of Architecture Advisory Board and the University of Virginia Alumni Association Board of Managers.  She has lectured at multiple institutions and is a frequent design reviewer or competition juror at leading universities and institutions around the U.S.  Zena is a LEED Accredited Design Professional and a member of the American Institute of Architects, the National Organization of Minority Architects, and the Association of African American Museums.