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Harvard GSD Student Named First Freelon Fellow

The final model for the campus infill proposal which attempts to transmit values of permeability and sociocultural inclusivity.

Established last year to increase diversity in the field of architecture, the Phil Freelon Fellowship Fund recently named its first Freelon Fellow: Aria Griffin. The announcement was made in November by Perkins+Will, along with Phil Freelon, design director of the firm’s North Carolina practice, and the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD). 

Griffin, a native of Los Angeles, began her graduate studies in architecture at the GSD in September after having earned a Bachelor of Science in Architecture in May from the Sam Fox School of Art and Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., where she also minored in African and African American studies. The recipient of multiple scholarships and academic awards, in addition to being an active, contributing member of her university and local community, Griffin embodies many of the qualities that the Freelon Fellowship aims to nurture and support.

“We are delighted to award this fellowship for the first time to such a talented, driven, and promising designer as Aria,” said Phil Freelon, whose portfolio includes the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Historic Emancipation Park in Houston, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C. “Aria exemplifies the academic excellence and opportunity we were hoping to advance at the GSD when we established the fellowship.” 

Freelon has long-standing ties with the GSD and is still actively involved at the school, serving as a role model for aspiring, young minority architects such as Griffin. 

“The Phil Freelon fellowship is a wonderful expression of Freelon’s enthusiastic support for diverse voices in the field of design,” Griffin explained. “He views diversity as essential to a complete and relevant design process.” She noted that Freelon’s work on the NMAAHC serves “not only as a paragon of design, but also as evidence of the role architecture can play in shaping the memory and possibilities of social order.”

According to Griffin, being nominated as the first Freelon Fellow has motivated her to carry on his tradition of mentoring young people of color to pursue careers in design and architecture. She said the fellowship has already opened doors for networking with influential leaders in the field. She believes the award will help her achieve her most ambitious goals and to recognize the transformative architectural possibilities embedded in neglected or subjugated cultural identities.

“As a black woman of Afro-Caribbean and Anglo heritage, my architectural goal is to create spaces that challenge and transform the existing cultural and political landscape,” she explained. “My favorite projects have attempted to reimagine the ways in which people in a diverse society can live and find expression.”

For example, in response to the global shift in education to study online, Griffin’s project “Terminus” is a utopic/dystopic proposal for a transit stop for intellectual exchange. Superimposed on an abandoned traditional university campus, the intervention is linked to an extending light-rail transportation system and seeks to be a hub for commuter learners. The design is to promote the intersection of ideas in order to counter the political and cultural isolation (disintegration) associated with online learning. Thus, the building contains collaborative makerspaces where individuals can access specialized educational equipment as well as spaces where work completed at home can be shared with the community.