UB: Please tell us a little about yourself and your practice:
MF: I am a lifelong Detroit resident, I received my Masters of Architecture from University of Detroit, where in 2005 I begun graduate thesis which is published and titled "Cultural Innovation - Hip Hop Inspired Architecture and Design". Currently I’m a designer at Hamilton Anderson Associates in downtown Detroit and an adjunct professors at UDM’s School of Architecture. I am very interested in the cultural impacts of the architecture profession, which provides not only the backdrop, but the stage for which social interactions and developments occur. Karsten Harries, professor of philosophy at Yale University states:
“Like language architecture is on one hand a product of human activity while on the other it helps to create the environment which gives shape to man’s activities. To build is to help decide how man is to dwell on the earth or indeed whether he is to dwell on it at all." 2
To be more specific, I am interested in the development of an architecture which is inspired by hip hop culture.
HB: Can you elaborate about the relationship between architectural developments and associated cultural ramifications.
In the late 1960’s through the 1970s, the very individuals who are attributed to the creation of hip hop and its evolution, DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambatta, were either born or raised in the towering housing projects inspired by LeCobursier’s (Tower in The Park) model in his Plan Voisin.
After Robert Moses reviewed the 1935 publication of LeCorbusier’s Plan Voisin, “he took the tower in the park model “That neatly solved thorny problems with tidy cost efficiency. It opened space in the urban grid and provided housing for the displaced poor.” (1) It also supported the goals of “slum clearance” and business development. Moses’ review of LeCorbusier’s Plan Voisin, and his knowledge of the New York Regional Planning Associations 1929 plan, made it possible for him to deliver the first major urban renewal blow to the Bronx. Moses presented the development of a six-lane highway, which would pass through the Bronx and consequently displace over 60,000 Bronx residents.
Though he sought to provide housing for the displaced residents, he also dismantled many key amenities which were essential to life within a city, and noted by LeCorbusier as key to the success of the Plan Voisin. When it comes to an existing city fabric, most developers would be hesitant to disrupt these vital amenities but not Moses. His influences radiated throughout American cities with large African American populations, including my hometown, Detroit, Michigan.
LeCorbusier’s, Plan Voisin, has received its fair share of criticism since its inception but in my view, very rarely has it been linked to the creation of the depriving ecologies, which sparked the creation of hip hop. Both Robert Moses and Corbusier failed to theorize the negative social implications of monotonous architecture and high density living that the Plan Voisin would imposed on its inhabitants.
This is not an attempt to give someone else credit for the creation of hip hop, yet it is a deliberate jab at architecture, professional and academically and its lack of attention given to minorities. To announce that arguably one of the most recognizable and studied architects of the all-time is the fore father of hip hop definitely raises a level of curiosity.
UB: What do you mean about the creation of depriving ecologies?
MF: With the existing economic and racial tensions in America, coupled with the lack of political representation of the inner city, these factors would create some of the most in unopportunistic communicates in American history.
For example, Roger Starr, a New York City mayor’s official, “articulated an end-game policy of “planned shrinkage” in which health, fire, police sanitation and transit services would be removed from inner cities until all the people that remained had to leave too- or be left behind” (2) These were the conditions many inner city families were left to deal with, while their original communities were uprooted and replaced by highways which afforded suburban dwellers to efficiency commune from long distances to the central business districts of downtown urban cities. The residents, removed from their original communities were now faced with moving into these towering structures, which lacked various amenities such as private space, recreational space and offered minimal public green spaces, although LeCorubsier’s original intention was to provide all of those listed amenities and numbers others.
UB: So, what exactly is “Hip Hop Inspired Architecture”?
MF: Hip hop inspired architect will come as a result of the exploration and study of the hip hop elements and there development and usage throughout the past four decades. The cultural and behavioral traits of the hip hop generation instigated by the towers in a park model, gives implications of the programmatic qualities of a hip hop inspired architecture. The often conflicting, overlapping social events which took place in the supposed parks of the towers presents an interesting spatial dialogue. Parks, which were used for basketball games, seamlessly transformed into space for spontaneous resident parties, impromptu freestyle ciphers, dj and break dancing competitions – no space is to be exclusive to any program in an hip hop inspired architecture. This architecture should reflect a sense of planned spontaneity.
Green buildings have an aspect that is a key component in the hip hop culture: recycling. In hip hop, this strategy is called “remixing”. This is a tactic which has resulted in new dj techniques and new graffiti writing styles. Hip hop inspired architecture in its development will use adaptive reuse strategies, throughout its design, documentation and construction phases. These strategies will be coupled with the use of traditional architectural instruments in non-traditional ways of producing architectural designs and drawings.
UB: Thanks for your time. Do you have any concluding thoughts?
This is a topic which is deeply rooted in the hearts of many hip hoppers who are also architects both in practice and in academia, and it deserves more attention beyond this conversation. We need educators who to seek to develop new ideas, new talent, and are not afraid to lend support to its students who seek to make a difference in the built environment both aesthetically and socially. I leave you with a quote by LeCorbusier, which images the potential impact I believe hip hop which is highly influenced by jazz music, could have on our profession, “If architecture were at a point reached by jazz, it would be an incredible spectacle.”