Michael Ford is a Hip-Hop Architect from Detroit who also worked as a designer for Flad Architects here in Madison. As a designer he has worked on projects including the Dow Chemical Company Founders’ Garden, The Gateway of the Pacific Hotel in San Francisco, the Cirque Angel Theater in the Luxor Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas, and many more. He also teaches architecture in academic settings and regularly presents on Hip Hop Architecture on the lecture circuit. Ford’s Hip Hop Architecture research is the topic of articles published in a variety of places including University of Pennsylvania’s annual Unspoken Borders Publication and Conference and Harvard University’s Journal of African American Policy. Along with these publications Ford is also a regular presenter at the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) Annual Conferences and has been a guest lecturer at several universities including the University of Illinois Urbana – Champaign, University of Detroit Mercy, UPenn, Carnegie Mellon Univresity and Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.

Rank your Top Five MCs. In no particular order, my top five MCs are:

  • Jay Z
  • Rakim
  • Biggie
  • Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def)
  • Kanye West…yes, Kanye!

Which motivates you more: doubters or supporters? Supporters motivate me the most. I try to spend as little time as possible with doubters.

Why do you live in Madison? I originally moved to Madison to work at Flad Architects and have remained here since moving on from Flad because The City has a ton of opportunities for young professionals to make a name for themselves and to carve out space for those coming behind them.

What three leaders in Madison under 50 have impressed you the most? Without a doubt I would have to say, Sabrina Madison, Anthony Cooper and my wife, Gail Ford.

What’s the biggest stumbling block in Madison to turning the corner on our racial disparities?  The biggest stumbling block is U.N.I.T.Y.

What are your top three priorities at this point in your life? My top three priorities are:

  1. Living a healthy, well balanced life with my queen, Gail Ford.
  2. Increasing the number of black and brown people involved in S.T.E.A.M. professions, especially architecture.
  3. Working towards the ribbon cutting of The Universal Hip Hop Museum.

Only four percent of architects in the United States are African America. How are you using hip hop to increase those numbers? Currently I am traveling the around the country to colleges, universities and various conferences on a Hip Hop Architecture Lecture Tour. The purpose of the lecture tour is to provide a new area of study for minority students in hopes of increasing the retention rates of African Americans in Schools of Architecture. My lectures are very non-traditional; I often travel with a DJ who spins as I lecture. I’ve lectured with a number of DJ’s including my best friend, Eryk “The Arch-E-Tech” Christian who also has a degree in architecture and the legendary Grandwizard Theodore, who invented scratching.  

Last but not least, the current project I’m designing, The Universal Hip Hop Museum, has allowed me to show the next generation how important architecture is to creating the spaces and places we want to see in our communities and the places needed for preservation of our culture. While working on that project, I have sought non-traditional publications like The Fader and Vibe. Publications I know African Americans have more access to, unlike traditional architecture magazines.   

Who won the Nas vs Jay Z beef? My heart tells me Jay Z won, but my ears tell me Nas won. At the end of the day, I think the people won. We all won because we had a chance to witness one of the most epic battles, no matter the sport. This was not a nobody coming after a champion, this battle was between two heavyweight champions.

What advice would you give to the Madison Metropolitan School District when it comes to using hip hop to help close their achievement gap? Relying on Hip Hop Culture to be a catalyst for effectively engaging youth is actually an inclusive model which will benefit all students in the district. The largest consumers of Hip Hop culture are young white suburban males, who consume nearly 80 percent of hip hop music. While the producers and constituents of Hip Hop Culture are mainly African American and Latino.

The best advice I can give MMSD about incorporating Hip Hop Culture to close the achievement gap is not to “use” hip hop culture as a gimmick. MMSD should recognize the creative genius in their African American students who constantly propel the culture through innovative fashion and language, which is constantly emulated around The City, The State, the country and the world! Last, I suggest MMSD invite hip hop educators and cultural experts, who have created curriculum around the culture, to the table to help overcome the achievement gaps.

What three similarities do you see between Madison and Detroit? 1. Just like Detroit, I noticed the barbershop is a place of refuge and gathering for black men. It’s the one place we all have to go, from the African American kids in elementary school to judges and police officers. It’s one place that does not change no matter what city or state you are in.

  1. The Hip Hop scene here in Madison, to my surprise when I relocated here, is thriving! I would not have guessed that before moving to Madison. With the programs like First Wave at UW Madison and young talent such as Trapo who has one of the best sounds in hip hop right now. I can’t wait to see him perform at SXSW in March.
  2. The other similarity is the religious following of our football teams, both college and NFL. The Lions fans are the best fans in the world. What other fans would have cheered on their team during a record setting 0-16 run?

How do you balance your career with your marriage? Balance is always a challenge, we both love what we do, and we both get involved with a number of initiatives aimed at helping kids. We lost our only child, our son MJ3, who was still born after my wife carried him for 9 months. Our careers which are dedicated to helping children is our balance. Our careers provide us the one thing our marriage is missing, kids!

Besides that we make it a priority to take a big trip each year, and we play a ton of games, every day which take us away from reality for a few minutes. You don’t want to be in the car with us when a poetry slam or freestyle battle breaks out, it gets pretty intense.

If the saying is Detroit versus everybody…then its Madison versus … who? Madison vs Everybody.

The mantra created by Tommy Walker in Detroit is a strong one! And to me it’s a double entendre. It can stand for whatever you want it to stand for, and to me, it means Madison vs Everybody. The statement can mean its (UW)Madison vs Everybody in The Big10 or Madison vs Everybody who says our kids can’t excel in academics.