The energy for week one of the innovative Hip-Hop Architecture Camp at the Madison Central Library was going to be tough to beat, but week two was lively and spirited in its own right as area youth came together to explore architecture, urban planning, and economic development through the lens of hip-hop culture while simultaneously aligning with the City of Madison’s Planning Department’s mission to gather and use opinions of each and every Madisonian to update the City’s 20-Year Comprehensive Plan.
This was the second of four “Hip Hop Architecture” camps for middle and high school students that have been the brainchild of Mike Ford, also known as The Hip Hop Architect, who is on a mission is to expose diverse youth to the architectural world.
“It was an amazing day on Saturday. It was great to see a lot of the kids return from the previous week but to also see some new faces,” Kouyate Toure, one of the four African-American architects that worked with the kids at the camp, tells Madison365. “It was fun to interact with the parents who were attending with their kids, too, because you get another perspective of what the parents feel is important to the community versus what the kids value.”
Through hands-on urban planning and architectural exercises, interviews with city leadership and the creation of a Hip-Hop architecture song, coupled with a music video, campers created their own unique vision for Madison’s neighborhoods. This week, kids took the skills learned in week one and created their own community. The project was called “Express Yourself,” and allowed the kids to work in groups to create an entire neighborhood based on their new architectural and urban planning skills.
For the first half of the day, the 40 campers created an entire community while working in three large groups of 10-12 kids.
“The students created a community that was based on the City of Madison’s plan ‘Imagine Madison.’ So they had 13 initiatives for imagining the city 20 years into the future,” Ford tells Madison365. “The campers took those and ranked them from 1-13 in importance and they decided on their goals.”
The campers took all of their goals and created their own communities from scratch. The groups had some very interesting and creative ideas. One group created a park dedicated to Tony Robinson in their group, for example.
City of Madison city planners were a part of each group, too. Colin Punt, attended the camp on behalf of the City of Madison/Imagine Madison.
“It was very interesting to be around the kids for this day,” Punt tells Madison365. “There was a lot of energy in the room and I was really surprised at the depth of thought that the kids put into a lot of their activities and proposals. Everything was really well-thought out and it was fun to see the ideas flow like that.”
Punt says that it was great to see that all of the neighborhoods that the young people were putting together kept those original 13 important goals in mind whether they were about housing or sustainability or community.
“It was really cool to see that discussion going on and then to see the end product that they produced which was great,” he says.
Punt says that he enjoyed seeing an emphasis on equity and social justice that permeated its way through all of the discussions.
“I was glad to see that,” Punt says. “Prior to this, I hadn’t really considered Hip-Hop as a way to engage young people with urban planning so I have to give kudos to Mike Ford for putting this together and being able to make that connection because, obviously, it’s working.”
Black male architectural professionals – including Rafeeq Assad, Chitani Ndisale, Toure, and Ford – volunteered their time at the camp and worked with the individual groups on their projects helping the students move their ideas forward.
“There are not a lot of minority architectural professionals,” Ford says. “This week, all of the black men who are in architecture in the city of Madison were all there this past Saturday for week two. All four of us. That was pretty cool.”
Toure told Madison365 that for that first camp you could definitely feel an amazing energy amongst the kids and that the second camp was the same.
“I really enjoyed working with the kids. This really hits home for me because I did my thesis on Hip-Hop Architecture, as well,” Toure says. “Like Mike [Ford], this has also been a passion of mine. I’m so glad he spearheaded this movement and that we are figuring out how we can really impact our youth.”
Having interacted with the kids all day, the 32-year-old Toure was surprised to see what kind of climate the kids lived in on a daily basis full of racial tension and political uncertainty. “Things are different from when I grew up and just hearing some of their stories and perspectives and their opinions … it’s a little crazy,” he says. “Kids today aren’t raised the way my generation was raised. They are a little more vocal and there are a lot more avenues for them to express themselves and get their point across through social media that we didn’t have.”
Toure says that he found the young people to be very worldy and socially conscious and that gives him hope. “There was this one young lady who had some great ideas for the neighborhood she was talking about. She was talking about water storage and capturing rainwater and recycling. It was pretty cool to hear that some of these young kids were thinking about a more sustainable future,” Toure says. “They are beyond where I was at that age.”
While the three groups were busy planning cities at the Central Library, a group of six students were upstairs in the Madison Public Library’s music lab working with Hip-Hop artist Rob Dz to record the Hip Hop Architecture Camp soundtrack, “Build It Up.”
“The young people had spent the last week writing that rap. So, after the first camp they learned the goals and the objectives and listened to the conversation and then they wrote a rap throughout the week which they recorded at Camp Two,” Ford says. “And I have to say … It was pretty nice!
“Build It Up” explains why diversity should be important in architectural professions and in urban planning and what we can do to build up our communities.
“The song also focuses on the issues that we have here in Madison and in communities of color in general,” Ford says, “And how we can start to solve those issues with architecture and urban planning.”
Ford is already gearing up for next Saturday’s Hip Hop Architecture Camp Three. He’s excited about what he has seen so far.
“The responses from the campers have been extremely positive and motivating. There’s one kid in particular whose was so excited and happy. His mom sent me a message and said that her son gave her a long, hard hug after the first session which he normally doesn’t do,” Ford says. “She told me that he was so excited that everybody, including adults, was listening to him talk about his design work. He came back the second week and he was just as excited. He got to present his work and his ideas again. And he just could not stop talking about his great experience to his mom.
“To me, that’s pretty powerful,” Ford adds. “That’s why we do what we do.”