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National Guardian Life hires Hip-Hop Architect Michael Ford to set their DEI commitment in stone — literally


Special promotional content provided by National Guardian Life Insurance Company to celebrate Black History Month.

When National Guardian Life Insurance Company (NGL) re-opens its newly renovated downtown Madison office this June, visitors and employees will see the company’s new statement of commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion literally set it stone – 20 feet tall and 14 feet wide, etched in hieroglyphs in a black marble mural that will weigh more than a ton. 

Designed by Michael Ford, better known as the Hip-Hop Architect, the mural will exist in three dimensions, with longer and more important words raised in relief and illuminated in small spotlights.

“When they reached out and started supporting the Hip-Hop Architecture Camp, they learned how few Black architects there were. And they asked, ‘How can we get him involved beyond just doing a camp to expose kids? How can we create a moment, a celebrated piece?’ So that they can use their project as a way to put a spotlight on a designer, a Black architect,” Ford said. “Then once they saw what we were doing (in the Hip-Hop Architecture class), it was like, okay, this is not just a kids camp. It can actually be used in our building.”

NGL Assistant Vice President of Marketing & Inclusion Experience Dwayne Maddox said once the company committed to a bold DEI statement, bringing it to life was a logical next step.

“We started out working on our diversity, equity and inclusion, understanding that, it was an internal exercise about our internal culture and it was an external exercise to engage with our community, for our community, where we live, work and serve as an organization. We felt like doing something. Making a statement was one thing. But putting it in stone, making it a part of a physical manifestation and part of who we are as an organization, by placing it in our building is symbolic that we’re starting fresh, renovating our building, kicking off a new beginning that prioritizes equity and inclusion in all that we do.”

Ford said the design parallels what he teaches kids to do in the Hip-Hop Architecture Camp – that is, take sounds and words and make them into physical structures.

“The design, the concept is really Michael’s,” Maddox said. “It’s a testament to when you open doors, you never know what opportunities come through. We simply opened the door and expressed that we wanted to work with Michael … and then he really brought his vision and expertise to life as an architect, and we couldn’t be more pleased.”

Michael Ford, right, goes over plans with building contractors at NGL’s downtown Madison office. Photo by Carlos Guzman.

TEXT[TILES] will be carved in over 2,000 pounds of Spanish black marble, carved and assembled by Quarra Stone on Madison’s east side. The company has worked in architectural stone for more than 30 years, and has recently been engaging in more fine art pieces by artists around the world. Ford had been familiar with their work, and fortuitously had been invited to a meeting to discuss new ways to represent Black hair in stone sculpture about the same time NGL was getting the mural project underway. 

“I came in, showed that to (Quarra Stone executives) and they were like, ‘Let’s take it on, let’s do it. We’ve done crazier things,’” Ford said.

Some of the hieroglyph panels will be carved in test stone in the coming weeks, and Quarra execs say they intend to begin installation in May, ahead of an unveiling in June. The text of the statement will also be revealed at that time.