The 82,000 square-foot Reginald F. Lewis Museum opened in 2005 and immediately made history as the first major building in downtown Baltimore designed by African American architects—a joint effort between Philip Freelon of a North Carolina firm, the Freelon Group, and Gary Bowden of a Baltimore firm, RTKL Associates. Both architects are fellows of the American Institute of Architects, rare achievements considering that in 2016 African Americans make up just 2% of registered architects in the United States.
The museum represents the character, pride, struggle, and accomplishments of Maryland African Americans, and was the second largest African American museum in the United States at the time of construction. The museums took the name of Baltimore businessman Reginald Lewis, the first African American CEO of a Fortune 500 company, TLC Beatrice International. Lewis grew up in West Baltimore and, before his death in 1993, he expressed interest in building a museum to African American culture. The Reginald F. Lewis Foundation, which Lewis established in 1987, provided a $5 million grant for the construction of the museum in Baltimore.
The museum board turned down an offer to reuse the Blaustein City Exhibition Center on President Street after focus groups showed that people were not interested in taking over the site of an old museum. "African Americans are tired of left-over seconds," museum board vice chairman Aris Allen Jr. told the Baltimore Sun in 2005. Architects Freelon and Bowden sought to design a distinct building that evokes the spirit of African American culture. The black, red and yellow facade takes its colors from the Maryland flag. A bold red wall slices through the facade, representing the journey of African Americans and the duality of accomplishment and struggle.
The building won several awards from local and state American Institute of Architects chapter. The museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute and along with permanent exhibits, includes space for special exhibits, an oral history and recording studio, a 200 seat auditorium, and a classroom and resource center.