Durham News

Global architecture firm Perkins+Will acquiring the Freelon Group

The Freelon Group, the Durham architecture firm founded by noted local architect Phil Freelon, is being acquired by Perkins+Will, a global firm with 24 offices around the world.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

After the close of the transaction, Phil Freelon will join Perkins+Will’s board of directors and become managing and design director of the firm’s North Carolina practice.

Freelon said Tuesday that Perkins+Will first approached him about acquiring his firm six years ago. While the timing turned out not to be right then, Freelon kept in touch with the firm’s executives over the years.

“When they approached me again, the timing was right,” he said.

In the ensuing years, Freelon said, his firm found that its size – between 45 and 60 employees – made it difficult to compete for some of the projects it had historically gone after.

“We are in some cases considered too big to be considered for smaller, local projects but on the other hand competing against much larger firms we’ve found it difficult to show the depth of portfolio that would allow us to demonstrate our capabilities on certain project types,” Freelon said. “Aligning with a bigger firm is good for us in that regard.”

Perkins+Will has 1,500 employees worldwide. Freelon will oversee its offices in Research Triangle Park and Charlotte, each of which has about 15 employes. Perkins+Will’s RTP employees plan to relocate to The Freelon Group’s office space in the park after the deal closes.

Freelon said there are no plans to eliminate jobs as a result of the acquisition.

“We’re probably looking to add more,” he said. “They’ll be no trimming or consolidation. ... We need everybody that we have and the same is true for the two Perkins+Will offices. Work is picking up.”

Freelon founded the Freelon Group in 1990. The firm has been involved in the design of numerous museums, libraries and other cultural and civic buildings and spaces, including the 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.

In North Carolina, Freelon worked on the design for Central Regional Hospital in Butner and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture in Charlotte. Perkins+Will CEO Phil Harrison noted the Freelon Group’s cultural design expertise in a statement announcing the deal.

“With Phil Freelon, his experienced team of 40 designers, and other professionals who intend to join Perkins+Will, we look forward to offering clients a deeper level of cultural design expertise,” he said.

Freelon said Perkins+Will is also strong in segments, such as health care and corporate, where his firm has traditionally not done as much work.

The two firms are also a good cultural fit, he said, sharing a love of design and a dedication to doing both socially conscious and environmentally friendly work.

“Even the project profiles,” he said. “The kind of work that we do and why we do it – there’s a broader perspective than the bottom line.”