For five days last month, The Hip Hop Architecture Camp held its first-ever D.C. program. The camp is the brainchild of Madison, Wisconsin-based architectural designer and native Detroiter Michael Ford. It uses “hip hop culture as a catalyst to introduce underrepresented youth,” in the words of its leaders and website, “to architecture, urban planning and design.”
A dozen D.C. middle school students—aged 11 to 13—attended the camp, which took place at the American Institute of Architects’ District Architecture Center in Penn Quarter. They met with local design professionals, who taught them how to sketch and create 3D models using Tinkercad, an online design tool. They also met with local artists who helped them produce a music video about D.C. gentrification and diversity in architecture by the end of the program.
The video, which the camp is premiering on Monday evening at Howard University, features the youth visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture—designed by David Adajye and Phil Freelon, among others—the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, the Washington Monument, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. It portrays them working on architectural models, recording the song at a local studio, and generally having a fun time.
“I think one of the things they learned out of the camp is the rigor that goes into design and design spaces,” Ford tells Curbed in an interview. “The different mediums, sketching and 3D modeling—but also a newfound respect for artists and the process they go through. [At] the studio, the young people are saying their verse four or five times. It’s not an overnight thing.”
After the students—assisted by rapper Destiny Da Chef—wrote and recorded the lyrics, they listened to them on playback. “A lot of people cringe when they hear their own voice,” Ford notes. “Some people put their heads down laughing. They couldn’t believe this was them ... [and] they were extremely excited to go off and make the music video to match the energy.”
Howard University students judged the lyrics that the camp participants submitted for the song. Those written by four of the youth were ultimately selected. Below are a few samples.
My name is Ayinde / From D.C. and Philly / You can’t mess with me / I’m the king of the city / Imma help the community just like I help my people / On my way to better places / Can be my own sequel / I turn my visions into potential / You can check my credentials / Everything I say is coming off my mental ...
I grew up in a place being gentrified / Raised in Chocolate City / Rehabilitized / Hanging out in the streets of Eastland Gardens / Where houses were built by Lewis K. and Clyde Martin / The world can’t appreciate their work / They seem infinitesimal / Smaller than neutrons / The female architect is a minority / Only 450, yet women are a priority? ...
Diversity is not a place to build something difficult / We gotta build something that’s pretty much original / Our representation needs clarification / Rehabilitation is just a creation ...
Creating my legacy / Here in Banneker’s City / A place made for you and me / Made with math / You know geometry / Speaking of math, some stray away from the path / Building up one another / Wouldn’t that be lit?
Ford wrote the hook, an allusion to the relatively small number of licensed African-American architects in the U.S.: “Build it up / 2 percent / That ain’t what up / We gotta find a way.” He plans on running another hip-hop architecture camp in D.C. during the summer, at Howard, with 40 slots. (The dates haven’t been set yet.) He is also currently working on designs for the Universal Hip-Hop Museum—a groundbreaking project to debut in the Bronx in a few years.
Whereas other programs can cost anywhere between $100 and $1,200 in registration fees, according to Ford, his camp is free to youth thanks to sponsors like the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (also known as NCARB) and local partners. The National Building Museum helped circulate information about the February program, Ford points out.
“Hopefully the camp provides the initial spark for these young people to not only become architects and start to work in their communities, but also ... encourages them to celebrate their culture that has captivated the entire world,” he explains. “They are the creators and innovators and validators of that culture.” You can watch the students’ music video below.