Architect Phil Freelon ’75 holds wide range of interests

September 26, 2011
By Chris Saunders
Photograph by Michael Zirkle

Photograph by Michael Zirkle

Durham architect Phil Freelon ’75 and his firm, The Freelon Group, are profiled in the upcoming fall issue of NC State magazine.

But in our time with him, we learned that Freelon has his designs set on more than just buildings. From dj’ing his New Year’s Eve parties and playing basketball to discussing good science fiction — his favorite movie is The Matrix — Freelon’s eclectic range helps define him as what his oldest son Deen calls “a Renaissance man.”

We discovered a lot of that range when we sat down with Freelon for a Q & A.

You’ve done projects in a lot of different cities. Is there one you still hope to work in? I’d love to do something in Philadelphia. We’ve come close. That’s my hometown. We were selected to do a project there, but the economy got bad. But I think Philadelphia. It’d be fun to do something in my hometown.

What’s the best song to start a party with as a DJ? Something by Michael Jackson.

What’s your favorite Wolfpack sports memory? I was in Reynolds Coliseum when David Thompson went up and came down on his head. They had to carry him out on a stretcher, but he came back. We were all relieved that he hadn’t been killed. That was incredible. And then they beat UCLA that same year.

I know photography is one of your great passions. If you could take a picture of anything anywhere, where would it be? I’ve not visited Egypt yet. And I’ve always wanted to see the Pyramids up close. One of my goals in photography is if I see a monument or an overworked theme, like the Eiffel Tower, I want to find my own way of seeing it. And it’d have to be a challenge.

What is the most meaningful thing you have in your office at work? Probably the pictures of my family, which include pictures of [his wife] Nnenna [a Grammy-nominated jazz singer] on her cds. My office is dotted with different images of my family.

If you could sing any song with your wife as a duet, what would it be? Something romantic, like “Endless Love” by Lionel Richie and Diana Ross.

What’s the best part of being an architect? Walking through a construction site and seeing a building take form and watching an idea come into reality in three dimensions in in real time.

What building most inspires you? I was always impressed with the Sydney Opera House. I still admire that building. It’s an example of what we try to do. It’s a building that inspires. It makes a reference to something else, like the sails. It’s iconic and has come to symbolize a whole country.

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