The Symbiotic Relationship Between Hip-Hop and Architecture

The field of architecture has lots of associations and organizations for students and professionals. It also has a camp. Hip-Hop Architecture Camp to be exact.

The camp is the brainchild of Mike Ford who grew up with hip-hop. Ford holds a master’s degree in architecture and uses his academic training and his practical experience as a designer to work with young people. His program gives underrepresented youth exposure to the unfamiliar – architecture, urban planning, creative placemaking, and economic development – through workshops using something they are familiar with: hip-hop culture and rap music.

Photo credit: The Urban Arts Collective

The goal of this nonprofit organization is to foster the creative spark that lies at the heart of both hip-hop culture and architecture through exploring ways these creative vehicles influence each other.

Hip-hop artists and architects have a lot in common. For example, they are both influenced by society, and conversely, hip-hop artists’ lyrics – in rap music, and an architect’s designs, and the structures they build influence our culture.

Most young people resonate with music and the genre of hip-hop specifically, which is apropos, because hip-hop is the most popular music genre in the country (Statista). Whether the song is a classic old-school or current hit, the music’s infectious beats are used to grasp a young person’s attention. Moreover, using the examination of the music and lyrics of hip-hop as an alternative teaching tool about how our living environment shapes our lives, can become a catalyst to inspire broader conversations about the impact of the existing built environment.

In one workshop, Ford had middle schoolers assemble Lego models based on rap lyrics. One student created a literal model of a classic rap song “The Message” by Grand-Master Flash and the Furious Five. The student’s model included sprinkles of green pieces to represent the lyric “broken glass everywhere.” Ford guided the student to think about the lyric from a less literal perspective and consider if a building could be constructed from collected broken glass.

This indirect exposure to the discipline of architecture and urban planning not only provides an introduction to the field as a possible career choice, but may perhaps, in the long-run, help to improve the industry’s diversity deficit, as it relates to recruiting people of color, and culture, and gender disparities.

Professional architects are licensed through the Department of Consumer Affairs’ California Architects Board. For more information, visit the board’s website at cab.ca.gov.

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