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Hip Hop Architecture Camp brings music and design together

Michael Ford’s new camps will teach black and brown children basic skills in the field

Architectural designer Michael Ford often uses hip-hop and architecture as teaching tools during lectures and TED Talks. Now, Ford, along with sponsor Autodesk, is introducing his love for music and design to middle school children and teenagers in cities across the country through his Hip Hop Architecture Camp.

The camps will begin June 12 for participants ages 10 to 17 in Los Angeles; Atlanta; Detroit; Austin, Texas; and other yet-to-be-announced locations before wrapping up in August. Ford said he chose locations that serve as different hubs for hip-hop culture.

During the weeklong sessions, participants will be taught basic architectural skills such as reading tape measures and scales, sketching and drawing techniques, and 3-D and physical model-making. One part Ford thinks every child will enjoy is being able to participate in a music video at the end of the week.

“Every single activity is based on hip-hop lyrics,” Ford said. “I use lyrics from various artists from songs of today all the way back to the golden age of hip-hop, and those lyrics frame each one of those assignments. Everything [participants] do over the five days eventually becomes a music video. Kids will write verses based on their experiences each day, and they will have a freestyle competition where we’ll pick some of the top verses that will eventually make it onto a recorded track and music video.”

Before building his brand as The Hip Hop Architect, Ford earned a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Detroit Mercy, where his graduate thesis focused primarily on how hip-hop inspired architecture and design. Besides the lectures Ford has given, he serves as an advisory board member for the Universal Hip Hop Museum in Bronx, New York..

Most recently, Ford was a keynote speaker at the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Conference on Architecture in April. Still, Ford said, many people fail to realize the correlation between hip-hop and architecture.

“A lot of people have a problem connecting those two dots,” Ford said. “Some people think, when they first hear [Hip Hop Architecture], it’s a gimmick that just attaches hip-hop to something in a very gimmicky way, but it’s a serious conversation where basically what I do is use hip-hop as a way to describe the failures of architecture in urban planning in black and brown communities.”

Ford recognizes that people of color in the field are scarce. According to a 2015 study conducted by the AIA, people of color make up 18 percent of the architecture industry. Only 4 percent are African-American.

“Right now, we have such a low number of architects, urban planners and even architecture students that are minorities,” Ford said. “The people designing in and for our communities don’t have the same sensitivity that people have who came from our neighborhoods. My goal is to increase the number of young black and brown children that’s interested in architecture.”

People of color make up 18 percent of the architecture industry. Only 4 percent are African-American.

Ford, a Detroit native who now resides in Madison, Wisconsin, spent time working closely with the city’s planning department on ideas of how to engage black and brown communities. Since last year, Ford has been working with Danny Guillory, head of global diversity and inclusion at Autodesk, a corporation that produces software for 3-D design, engineering and entertainment, on hip-hop architecture initiatives. But it wasn’t until this year’s South by Southwest festival that the two collaborated on a larger platform.

“We support programs like the Hip Hop Architecture Camp because they help create opportunity, access and the ability to influence one’s reality for a new group of future designers, which benefits everyone in the long run,” Guillory said. “Initiatives like this inspire more students in underserved communities to strengthen their design skills while gaining exposure to careers they may not have considered previously.”

With the start of camp right around the corner, Ford is looking forward to teaching young minds about the intersections of hip-hop and architecture while attempting to pique their interest in a field where black and brown professionals are underrepresented. Ford also hopes to receive help from hip-hop artists, community leaders and activists who are willing to volunteer their time for a good cause.

“My biggest hope is that each participant can see that their culture is important, and it’s also a way for them to revolutionize what it is that they’re doing or what they hope to do when they grow up,” Ford said. “Getting them to see why it’s important not to check your culture at the door and for a lot of black and brown kids, letting them know that our culture is attacked every day. We’re told not to talk this way, not to walk this way or not to dress that way, but every time we look at TV, we see the appropriation of our culture. I’m trying to allow them to find ways to bring their culture into new arenas.”

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.