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May 12, 2024

Tulsa’s Freese Architecture is behind it

A Freese Architecture-designed house features massive amounts of glass on the front, including under a central gable.

Brian Freese believes it is imperative for people to experience the outside as well as the inside of their homes or offices.

“I think that being outside is medicine and being in nature is medicine,” he said.

Freese is not a professional biologist or a park ranger; he’s an architect, and he’s been using that philosophy in his designs for decades.

A fourth-generation Tulsan, he is principal and owner of Freese Architecture, which is marking 30 years this year.

His commercial buildings and residential homes are characterized by semi-open, roofless spaces in central areas, lots of windows for natural light, and native materials from Oklahoma and the Midwest.

Among the dozens of projects his firm has designed or remodeled are Sharp Memorial Chapel at the University of Tulsa; Greenarch, a mixed-use 70-unit apartment building downtown; and many large private residences.

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A house designed by Freese Architecture is characterized by a semi-open, roofless space and lots of windows to connect the interior with the natural surroundings.

He has coined his style “Midwest Modern,” in which he uses natural materials and design “that reflects and responds to the local climate, geography, history and culture.

“I came up with the term because I thought I have to be able to simply and succinctly describe to potential clients what I mean when I say a ‘modern’ home or a ‘modern’ building in this part of the country,” he said.

“I have found that the word ‘modern’ can be very off-putting to some people because they think of it as an LA modern or a New York modern,” he said.

“I just really pondered about it for a long time, … and I pitched it, and it was like a light bulb. And every time I use it, I see a change in a person’s expression.

“One of the things that I think makes my firm unique is we think of the outdoor spaces as as critically important as the indoor spaces,” he said.

The firm was founded in January 1994, originally under the name Brian Lloyd Freese Architecture. It was rebranded as Freese Architecture in 2007, better aligning with its modern design aesthetic, he said.

The firm has been widely featured in publications including Architectural Digest, Western Art & Architecture, Dwell, Design Bureau and Oklahoma Magazine and in books on architecture with national and international distribution.



Asked to describe his creative process, Freese said:

“I think one of the unique things about the brain of an architect is that we are both taught — and we are wired — to use both lobes of the brain.

“So when we receive information from clients, we are thinking from a rational, logical perspective and also from a creative, artistic perspective.

“Function rules,” he said. “Function always rules. So it is my job as a design professional to take all the information a client gives me and, first, think about the logical, rational assembly of the rooms and spaces — that maximize their functional needs — and then artistically, at the same time, imaging those spaces and the feel of them. The natural light that comes in, the views.”

For example, he said, when he purchased his current office at 1634 S. Boston Ave., it was relatively nondescript. He changed it by adding a roofless entryway with a fountain and other features.


The Greenarch mixed-use development downtown is among Freese Architects’ projects.

“So I created this central (office) space, which is a transition from the street to the sidewalk to this (open fountain) to the front door. That sequence of spaces … we notice it subconsciously. And we notice how we feel as we transition from space to space, … even in this little building,” he said.

A project he cited as one of his most high-profile was the renovation and reconstruction of some areas of Sharp Memorial Chapel at the University of Tulsa in the mid-2000s.

“It’s become one of the most popular venues on the campus for formal affairs because of its glass on both walls, two stories high, and it has a wonderful view onto the campus courtyard that they share with McFarlin Library, and then a private courtyard on the other side,” he said.

While the firm has designed many commercial buildings and other projects for schools and other institutions, its main focus is residential homes, ranging from about 6,500 to 10,000 square feet.

His homes include many in the Tulsa area and into Missouri and Texas, many of which have received awards for design excellence.

“Even though Tulsa has grown, I like the fact that it still feels like a small city,” he said. “It’s a livable city. And a 20-minute drive, and I’m in the country. How about that?”

Freese Architecture, which he described as “a small, very comfortable firm,” currently has three architects, an office manager and a business manager, Freese’s wife, Judy Freese.


Renovation of the Sharp Chapel at the University of Tulsa is among the projects by Freese Architecture.

“I started my firm before we were married. We already knew we were going to get married. She had known for a while about my plans. We had a conversation about her being the business manager. She has a very strong business background.

“She agreed, on one condition,” he said.

“She said, ‘I am not your secretary. I will never type for you, but, yes, I will help you run your business.’

“And I think during the early years of this firm I would not have survived without her —absolutely.”


The Zanmai building at 1402 S. Peoria Ave. is among Freese Architecture’s projects.


This residence in Skiatook is among Freese Architecture’s area projects.

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