Skip to Content

Michael Ford: Hip Hop Architecture

BSA Space, Boston
August 3, 2017

Michael Ford working with students in an architectural studies class at a Cleveland high school.
Photo: Lisa DeJong/The Plain Dealer

When thinking about the origins of hip hop, DJ Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash are names that come to mind. Not for Michael Ford. As the packed room at the lecture hosted by the Boston chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects, the Boston Society of Architects/AIA, and the BSA Foundation listened intently, Ford explained that he refers to Le Corbusier as the forefather of hip-hop culture. Corbusier had a utopian plan, which was rejected, to rebuild Paris with high-rise towers within a park-like setting. Robert Moses used the very same plans as a basis to create what Ford calls “the worst remix in history,” eliminating light-filled prisms and greenscapes and leaving behind dark, high-density towers that became the model for public housing in the United States. The inhabitant’s response to this built environment, best described by Grandmaster Flash in “The Message” and what Ford refers to as “the post-occupancy report of Modernism,” is what gave birth to hip-hop culture.

Through the lens of hip hop, Ford has been shedding light on the sociological and psychological impact of architecture on communities and the built environment, highlighting the effects of bad urban planning. He hopes this intersection of hip hop and architecture will serve to build better “incubators of culture” in the future. Earlier this year, Ford started the Hip Hop Architecture Camp, an initiative to engage under-represented youth and expose them to architecture and urban planning, using hip-hop culture as a catalyst.

Designed in collaboration with icons of the musical genre, the first phase of Ford’s Universal Hip Hop Museum in the Bronx along the Harlem River will feature a touring mobile museum, nicknamed “Hip Hoptimus Prime.” The project turns Ford’s mission into brick and mortar, with public housing above the museum, a riverfront park, a boutique hotel, retail, and an amphitheater. It strives, he says, to “remedy the injustices faced by people of color at the hands of Modernism.”