Freelon entrusted to enhance D.C. arts

A North Carolina architect who has submitted several projects to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts for approval will soon be on the other side of that process.

Phil Freelon was appointed by President Barack Obama to join the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts for a four-year term beginning in January.

The commission advises the president, Congress and federal administrators on aesthetic matters in the District of Columbia and advises the U.S. Mint on commemorative coins and medals. It also reviews and approves designs for national memorials in the United States and overseas.

It is made up of seven experts in the arts that meet about once a month and reviews about 600 cases per year.

"The commission exists really to promote the quality of national symbols, whether they are coins or public buildings or memorials," said Thomas Luebke, secretary of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts.

The Smithsonian Institution picked Freelon's firm to lead planning for the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall.

Freelon sees many similarities between his firm and the Commission of Fine Arts.

"The Commission of Fine Arts is focused on design excellence, and so is our firm," he said.

"I think that there is a lot of congruence there, and my experience (with) my firm over the years will hopefully be helpful as the commission deliberates and goes through their work."

The Freelon Group began in 1990 with small jobs such as elementary school library renovations. Freelon has had a major role in the design of more than a dozen structures in his adopted hometown of Durham alone, including the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, three public library branches, four buildings on the campus of N.C. Central University, and the city's bus station, a curvaceous combination of glass and steel that still manages to be energy-efficient and user-friendly.

His projects don't have a specific style or trademark design because they are "responsive to the particulars" of each client's needs and the physical location of the project, Freelon said.

While Freelon sees this as a very high honor, he still expects great things from his architecture career.

"My philosophy is that if you have an ultimate goal it would be a sad day to reach (it) because there would be nowhere else to reach for, so my goals are continually adjusting," he said.

The U. S. Commission of Fine Arts was established in 1910 to meet the growing need for a permanent body to advise the government on matters pertaining to the arts and guide the architectural development of Washington, according to its website.