Walking confidently around the museum recently, Freelon was proud to show off features meant to convey the vibrancy and energy of African-American culture. Bowden, on the other hand, was as nervous as an actor waiting for the curtain to rise.

"I feel like a mother hen," he says. "It's less than a month from opening, and there's nothing in the gift shop. I hope the windows are cleaned. I hope that one wall gets patched."

Nevertheless, Bowden says, he's pleased with the location and the way the building turned out.

"Some people wanted it to be on Pennsylvania Avenue or in Druid Hill Park," he says. "I always wanted it to be in the middle of all the activity around the Inner Harbor, in the middle of the city. This is perfect. No more marginalization, being off to the side."

Philip G. Freelon

Age: 52

Birthplace: Philadelphia

Home: Durham, N.C.

Family: Married since 1979 to jazz singer Nnenna Freelon. Three children: Deen, 24, Maya, 23, and Pierce, 22.

Occupation: President and founder, the Freelon Group, with offices in Raleigh/Durham and Charlotte, N.C.

Education: Bachelor of Environmental Design (Architecture) from North Carolina State University, 1975; Master of Architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1977.

Key projects: International Civil Rights Center and Museum, Greensboro, N.C.; Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco; Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans; the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (with HOK Sport); academic buildings for 12 of 16 campuses in North Carolina's state university system.

Quote: "I don't want to be the Spike Lee of architecture. I want to be the Quincy Jones of architecture."

Gary A. Bowden

Age: 65

Birthplace: Great Falls, S.C.

Home: Guilford

Family: Married for 40 years to Sandra Bowden. Three sons: John Scott, 39, twins Jeff and Paul, 37.

Occupation: Kea Distinguished Professor, University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Retired in 2001 after 31 years at RTKL Associates.

Education: Bachelor of Architecture from Howard University, 1963; Master of Architecture in Urban Design, Carnegie Mellon University, 1967.

Key projects: Master plan for downtown Silver Spring; Southgate Center, a mixed-use development in Umhlanga, South Africa; Plaza Las Americas, San Juan, Puerto Rico; Diagonal Mar Center, Barcelona, Spain; Avenue at White Marsh, White Marsh Mall and IKEA in Baltimore County; retail centers for the Rouse Co. and others.

Quote: "A museum is a house of memories."