Lewis architect chosen for national museum job

Philip Freelon, one of the lead architects of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture in Baltimore, will play a key role in shaping the even-larger African-American museum planned for the Mall in Washington.

A team made up of Freelon's company, the Freelon Group of Research Triangle Park, N.C., and Davis Brody Bond of New York City has been selected to begin planning the project, which is expected to be the largest African-American museum in the country, a director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture said yesterday.


Scheduled to open by 2015 as part of the Smithsonian Institution, the museum will occupy one of the last available sites on the Mall, a 5-acre parcel at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue Northwest, near the Washington Monument.

The selection is a coup for Freelon and Davis Brody Bond partner Max Bond, two of the most highly regarded African-American architects in the country. The project was one of the most sought-after museum commissions in the United States, and they competed against many of the top designers in the country.


The selection is also a compliment to Baltimore's $34 million African-American museum, because the Smithsonian was impressed enough with Freelon's work in Baltimore to hire him for its project. The Freelon Group co-designed the Lewis museum with Baltimore architect Gary Bowden and RTKL Associates of Baltimore.

"That's wonderful," said David Terry, executive director of the Lewis museum, when told that Freelon was hired to work on the Washington project. "If we had anything to do with it, we are flattered beyond words."

Freelon was lecturing in Boston yesterday and could not be reached for comment. He has said that he regards the Washington museum as the project of a lifetime.

The scope of work for the Freelon-Bond team, as outlined in a listing of projects awarded by the federal government, is to provide architectural and engineering services leading to a "planning and programming" study for the museum, at a cost of $2.9 million.

The contract was awarded Oct. 12, took effect Oct. 17 and runs through Jan. 31, 2009. It does not guarantee that these architects will get to design the final building, but it indicates that they have a good chance unless they disappoint their clients. The National Museum of the American Indian, which opened on the Mall in 2004, is a case where the first lead designer, Douglas Cardinal, was replaced after the clients became unhappy with his work.

The Lewis museum, which opened in 2005 at Pratt and President streets, is the largest museum of its kind on the East Coast and the second largest in the country, after one in Detroit.

The Washington museum was established Dec. 19, 2003, when President Bush signed legislation creating it as part of the Smithsonian. It will be the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African-American life, art, history and culture.

With an estimated cost of $300 million to $500 million, a staff of 200 and a projected size of 350,000 square feet, it will contain permanent and changing exhibits, an auditorium, staff offices, gift shop and other spaces. The federal government will pay half the project's costs; the museum must raise the rest.


Besides the Lewis museum in Baltimore, the Freelon Group has designed the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University in New Orleans, and the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, N.C.