Phil Freelon steps down as managing director of Perkins+Will’s NC practice

Earlier this year, Phil Freelon announced that he had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2016.
Earlier this year, Phil Freelon announced that he had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2016. Special to The Herald-Sun

A little more than a year after being diagnosed with ALS, Durham architect Phil Freelon is stepping down from his position as managing director of the international architectural firm Perkins+Will’s North Carolina practice.

On Wednesday, Perkins+Will announced that it had appointed longtime principal at the firm Zena Howard as the new managing director of its Durham and Charlotte offices.

Freelon, 63, will continue as the design director of the North Carolina offices and will maintain his seat on Perkins+Will’s Board of Directors going forward.

“Having worked with Zena for nearly 14 years, including our close collaboration on the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, I can attest to her leadership ability, commitment to client satisfaction, and professionalism,” Freelon said in a statement. “Her promotion to managing director is well-deserved, and our clients are in very good hands.”

Freelon founded the architectural firm The Freelon Group in 1990, growing the firm to more than 45 employees and working on notable projects such as Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta and Emancipation Park in Houston.

Perkins+Will, which has more than 20 offices across the world, acquired the firm in 2014 and made Freelon managing director of both its Durham and Charlotte offices.

Its current Durham office is near Research Triangle Park, but the company is in the process of moving to downtown Durham into the former NC Mutual building, which is being renovated.

Last year, Freelon was diagnosed with ALS, a degenerative neurological disease that attacks nerve cells and pathways in the brain and spinal cord. Patients lose the ability to control muscle movements, eventually resulting in total paralysis, while their minds usually remain sharp.

Also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, it affects about five people per 100,000 in the U.S. The diagnosis came six months before the Smithsonian’s African American Museum debuted to the public.

In December, he formed the Freelon Foundation and launched Design a World Without ALS, a campaign to raise $250,000 for the Duke ALS Clinic.

Howard, 50, takes the managing director position after working in the Durham area for the 14 years. She originally joined the Freelon Group in 2003.

In addition to working on the Smithsonian African American History Museum, her portfolio includes work on projects such as the Durham County Human Services Complex, the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro and Brooklyn Village in Charlotte.

“I’m honored to take on this exciting opportunity to lead a motivated, talented team here in North Carolina, and continue engaging with our clients on inspirational projects both locally and nationally,” Howard said in a statement.

A graduate of the University of Virginia School of Architecture, Howard also serves on North Carolina State University School of Architecture Advisory Board and the University of Virginia Alumni Association Board of Managers.

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes

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