Home Local News Award-winning architect and academic Michael Ford to keynote NeoCon 2023 in Chicago

Award-winning architect and academic Michael Ford to keynote NeoCon 2023 in Chicago

Michael Ford (Photo: Hedi Rudd)

Madison’s Michael Ford, an award-winning architect and academic, will be one of the keynote speakers at NeoCon 2023 at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago June 12-14.

“NeoCon is the world’s largest interior design/product event of the year. So this happens annually in Chicago,” Ford tells Madison365. This is where a lot of new ideas are showcased from companies who create products that architects and interior designers use on projects — everything from wall coverings, floor coverings, blockout blinds, furniture, lighting, you name it.

Ford explores architecture and urban planning through the lens of hip-hop culture with the mission of promoting diversity through culturally relevant pedagogy. He is the founder of The Hip Hop Architecture Camp, an international, award-winning youth camp that positions hip-hop culture as a catalyst to help youth underrepresented in design to understand, critique, and generate architecture.

NeoCon serves as the hub for the commercial design community, uniting its designers, architects, end-users, manufacturers, dealers, service providers, associations, educators, students and media each year in June, according to its website. The platform and event for the commercial design industry share ideas on equity, sustainability, and how to build a better future.

Ford will be teaming up with his old friend Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, a.k.a. Lupe Fiasco, the Chicago-born Hip Hop legend and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor. The two will close out NeoCon on Wednesday, June 14, 10 a.m., with their keynote titled “Exploring the Rhythm of Design.”

Lupe Fiasco performing in Melbourne, Australia
(Wikimedia Commons)

Together, Ford, who is known as the “The Hip-Hop Architect,” and Lupe Fiasco, the Grammy award-winning rapper, will discuss their explorations in extracting the rhythms, textures, and patterns of Hip Hop as a source of design innovation in theory and in professional practice. 

“I’m joining with the Chicago legend – Lupe Fiasco. So we are coming together to talk about two of our loves – Hip Hop and design,” Ford says, adding that the two have been connected for the last 6 years or so. “A lot of people might not know that about Lupe Fiasco but he does have some design interest. And what we’ll be talking about is how the two of us have collaborated over the years on projects like the Hip-Hop Architecture Camp. We’ve run Hip Hop architecture sessions that were exclusively for rappers and professionals … just things for young people.

“And then we’ll be talking about using hip-hop as a design inspiration. I think Lupe Fiasco is one of the best lyricists out there when it comes to putting words and rhymes together. In fact, I think he’s one of the best lyricists of all time,” Ford adds. “So we’ll be talking about how you can extract patterns, textures, rhythms, and other things from Hip-Hop and use them.”

Other keynote speakers at NeoCon 2023 will include Michael Murphy, the co-founder of MASS Design Group, the award-winning architecture and design collaborative, and Amy Webb, a world-renowned futurist and founder & CEO of the Future Today Institute.

“I think what I’m looking forward to most about this conference is being able to share my unique design approach, which has been heavily inspired and influenced by Lupe Fiasco, in front of 40,000 plus people, which is how many people attended the conference last year,” Ford says. “So that will be one very exciting moment.

“But the other thing that I’m very excited about is being able to show the genius of some of the young people I work with around the country and how they’ve taken Hip-Hop and created their own design inspirations from it,” he adds. “It’s a pivotal year for Hip-Hop … it’s the 50th anniversary of Hip-Hop this year on Aug. 11, 2023. So it’s a very timely opportunity to share some new innovations in culture.”

Ford has a lot of fans here in Madison that he hopes can make the trip down to Illinois for NeoCon in June.

“Chicago is not far at all. And it will be definitely a very interesting and exciting event. So I definitely encourage people in and around the city of Madison working on new projects to come out and see new products and new furnishings that are being unveiled at NeoCon,” Ford says. “This is the place where most of the vendors from around the globe come … to NeoCon to showcase what’s new. So it’s a great opportunity for people who work on projects, whether it’s office spaces, residential spaces, etc. It’s worth the trip.

“And you can come and see me and Lupe talk as a great bonus,” he adds, smiling.


Registration for onsite programming for NeoCon 2023 began this week.  For more information, click here.