Michael Ford, AIA, known globally as The Hip-Hop Architect, has been named one of three “Young Architects of the Year” by the American Institute of Architects Wisconsin Chapter.
The announcement was made at the organization’s annual conference at Monona Terrace Wednesday. The other two honorees are Matthew Clapper, AIA and Brandon Reinke, AIA. Ford was nominated by Walter Wilson, AIA and Stacey Keller, AIA.
“To me, it means a lot,” Ford said of the honor. “One, it’s recognition of the work that I’ve been doing not just this past year, but since I came to Madison in 2010, working to expose more people to the profession of architecture. To me, this is an acknowledgement of that work by our institute. And then the second thing that means to me is for the very few licensed Black architects that we have in the state. It’s eight of us. And I am the youngest of that group who have their license. It’s a very small number of us. This award is not just an award for me, it’s an award for all of the people that I use hip hop to introduce architecture to.”
Since 2017, Ford’s Hip-Hop Architecture camps have exposed middle-school age students around the world to the concepts of urban design, architecture and community design based on hip-hop aesthetics.
Ford was recently commissioned to create a massive stone mural for National Guardian Life Insurace Company’s renovated office space, representing the company’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in three dimensions. Other recent and current projects include the Bronzeville Performing Arts Center in Milwaukee, the Universal Hip-Hop Museum in the Bronx and a virtual metaverse space for Madison-based Infamous Mothers.
The Young Artitecht of the Year Award goes to outstanding architects who have held their license for fewer than 10 years. Architecture is an unusal profession in that one can work in the field without being licensed, and earning a license is a difficult process with many barriers — especially for members of underrepresented communities. In fact, Ford himself was a globally renowned architect and urban designer, partnering with high-status firms like Herman Miller and running architecture camps all over the US, Europe and Africa, for several years before officially earning his license in 2021.
Ford said this is why many young Black architects work for years under established firms, and often end up somewhat tokenized.
“You’re doing DEI work at your firm,” he said. “Always when there’s a Black project, it’s like, ‘we need you on this Black project.’ And sometimes our own needs, we put them on the backburner. Our own professional growth, I would put it on the back burner. So I’m assuring people that you can still do both. I was still doing my thing as the architect, still engaged in youth, still working on professional projects, but also knocking out the work it took to get get my license as well.”
Earning the Young Architect of the Year honor in his first year of eligibility, Ford said he hopes to use his license to provide a talent pipeline for other Black architects who aren’t yet licensed.
“The only difference is, when you don’t have your license, you have to work at a firm, you work under the firm’s license. It was big for me to get my license so that I can do my own work, and hopefully, you know, hire other people who look like me to come be a part of a firm that recognizes your uniqueness, and give you the support that you need to get your own license,” Ford said.
“It is a daunting task to receive your license,” he added. “Especially for those who’ve been working for 10 opr 15 years. It’s like, ‘I don’t need a license. I can continue to work.’ This award I’m hoping to use as a catalyst to encourage more of our members to go after their license and know that there’s another stage you can reach in your career.”