The Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD), along with Perkins+Will, and Phil Freelon LF ’90, design director of the firm’s North Carolina practice, announced the awarding of the first Philip Freelon Fellow to Aria Griffin MArch ’21. The Phil Freelon Fellowship Fund was established in 2016 to expand academic opportunities for African American and other under-represented students of design.

“The support from Mr. Freelon and Perkins+Will is absolutely incredible, and I am so humbled and honored by this fellowship,” Griffin said. “It enables me to pursue something that I love so much, and propels me in a direction to do the best work I can.”

Ms. Griffin, a native of Los Angeles, began her graduate studies in architecture at the GSD in September. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Architecture in May from the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where she also minored in African and African American studies. The recipient of multiple scholarships and academic awards, and was an active, contributing member of Washington University in St. Louis and local communities. Ms. 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 in Washington, D.C. “Aria exemplifies the academic excellence and opportunity we were hoping to advance at the GSD when we established the fellowship. We look forward to seeing her grow academically and professionally in the years to come.”


(from left) Perkins+Will CEO and Grounded Visionaries campaign Co-Chair Phil Harrison AB ’86, MArch ’93, Aria Griffin MArch ’21 and Phil Freelon LF ’90. Photo credit: Jason Thornton.

Freelon and Perkins+Will CEO Phil Harrison AB ’86, MArch ’93, met Aria for the first time in October 2017 during a panel discussion about diversity in the design field. The Sert Council event with Perkins+Will explored topics around diversity in design in conjunction with the 2017 Black in Design Conference. The panel was moderated by Harrison and featured Freelon as a panelist.

“Through the Philip Freelon Fellowship at the GSD, we’re looking to make the biggest impact possible,” said Harrison, who is also co-chair of the Grounded Visionaries campaign. “We want it to draw attention to the need for diversity in the architecture profession, and we want to inspire others to do the same thing at institutions all over the world.”

“Phil Freelon is a passionate advocate for equity and diversity in the design sphere. These values are deeply supported by and ingrained in the GSD,” says Mohsen Mostafavi, Dean and Alexander and Victoria Wiley Professor of Design. “The GSD is thankful for the generosity of Perkins+Will and Phil Freelon in establishing this Fellowship and enabling talented, creative top design students like Aria Griffin to attend the GSD.”

Freelon has long-standing ties with the GSD, having been a recipient of the Loeb Fellowship from 1989-1990. He is still actively involved at the School and serves as a role model for aspiring young minority architects.