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Beats, Rhymes and Design: How Hip Hop Architecture Seeks to Diversify the Industry

by | October 15, 2019 0 Presentations, SERA General

This year, a few SERA employees volunteered for Portland’s Hip Hop Architecture Camp – a weeklong, intensive experience designed by Michael Ford to introduce underrepresented youth to architecture, urban planning, creative place making and economic development through the lens of hip hop culture. The camp happens around the country, and this year we were fortunate enough to sponsor and attend thanks to hosts Architecture Foundation of Oregon.

One only needs to look at licensure statistics to see the lack of diversity in architecture. Though African Americans made up 13 percent of the total U.S. population at the last census, only 2 percent of licensed architects in the U.S. are African-American, according to the National Association of Minority Architects.

Volunteering at this event was one small way for us to get involved and help change these statistics.

During orientation we were reminded that this is the age where a single experience may be the thing that sticks in a child’s mind and guides their future passion. As designers, we remember the first time we were inspired to become an architect or artist, and this program helps students make that connection – using pop culture references to teach fundamental architectural concepts to young adults!

Of course, as architects, artists, and designers, we often turn to music as inspiration. Whether it’s the rhythm that sets the pattern of the façade, or the image that the lyrics paint, music can be used as a basis for design.

During the week of structured sessions, one activity we participated in focused on translating a physical model made from rows of staples – created by the kids earlier that week – into a 3D modeling program. The exercise offered a unique glimpse into the ways kids process information: while one kid would meticulously count and multiply to get a specific height for each row before inputting anything into the computer, another might simply eye-ball the heights from her physical model.

Both are skillsets that are useful in our profession, reminding us as volunteers that our unique perspectives and methods offer more than one way to reach a creative solution.

Campers built model cities using staples, which they later translated to digital models. Credit: Architecture Foundation of Oregon

While the kids accomplished a lot over the course of the week, it’s important to remember that the end product wasn’t the goal. By breaking down lyrics, understanding rhythm, and creating their own designs, the kids left camp with a better understanding of their environment and architecture. But making sure the kids felt like architecture and urban planning was accessible and open to them was this program’s ultimate measure of success.

Co-written by Nicole Holt and Stephanie Balbin
Group photo provided by Architecture Foundation of Oregon

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