Book List of the Week

Book List of the Week: Philip Freelon

By Steve Kroeter July 11, 2019
Philip Freelon, Architect, The Freelon Group, Perkins & Will (Durham, NC)
View Philip Freelon’s Book List

This week we honor the life and work of Philip Freelon (1953–2019), chief architect of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Several years ago, Freelon sent Designers & Books a list of the books that inspired him, reflecting the varied interests that have informed his work. His book choices, he said, are titles that “have broadened my understanding of the world” and are “centered on imagining, understanding, and interpreting environments.” 

The Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, 2016. Photo: Alan Karchmer

These range from the science-fiction books Dune and Ender’s Game to a scientist’s understanding of our world interpreted for laymen (A Brief History of Time); noted historian (“and family friend”) John Hope Franklin’s seminal study From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans; and a book in which photography (“one of my favorite art forms”) is interpreted by a philosopher (Tao of Photography).

Architecture books in this vein include Nader Ardalan and Laleh Bakhtiar’s The Sense of Unity: The Sufi Tradition in Persian Architecture, “a refreshing and fascinating departure from the standard Western theories of form, space, and order.” Among the fundamental principles of Sufism the book discusses is the idea of “unity in multiplicity”—a concept that we can see would appeal to Freelon. And the classic student reference Architecture: Form, Space, and Order is singled out for its “drawings [that] are at once impeccable and soulful."

View the complete List of Books That Inspire Philip Freelon.

See also “Remembering Phil Freelon, America’s Humanitarian Architect.” 

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