Hip Hop Architecture Camp Inspires Next Generation of Architects and Designers

03.22.2019

Only 2 percent of architects in the U.S. are African-American, according to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), and the troubling statistic has remained stagnant for several years. But the Hip Hop Architecture Camp—an educational program by founder Michael Ford—aims to shift this imbalance by introducing underrepresented youth to architecture and urban design through the lens of hip-hop culture.

Local Design Mentors

The week-long intensive camps are hosted in cities across the country. NCARB, who sponsors the program with Autodesk, recently held a camp in Washington. Local architects and designers were invited to act as mentors and help students create physical models, digital models and hip-hop lyrics.

“First and foremost, we wanted students to interact with architects and designers in the area. We also hope that the camp’s activities inspired students to think creatively about how they can spark change in their own communities,” says NCARB CEO Michael J. Armstrong. “Ideally, we’d like to see some of these students consider a career in architecture, but they will also walk away with a better understanding of the vital role architects play in protecting the public.”

Tackling Housing Instability

At the camp, participants created 3D cityscapes and digital facades. They also got a behind-the-scenes tour of the National Building Museum’s Evicted exhibition, which explores the causes and impacts of housing instability, as well as how designers and local governments can help tackle the issue. Together, these unique experiences encouraged students to re-examine definitions of home and think creatively about how they can spark change in their own communities.


During the Washington-based program, students transformed hip-hop lyrics into three-dimensional cityscapes using craft supplies. After putting the finishing touches on their models, students then designed 3D facades using Tinkercad, a free design app by Autodesk. 

“NCARB’s mission is to protect the public’s welfare through the regulation of architecture,” Armstrong states. “To accomplish this, licensed practitioners should reflect and understand the communities they serve.”

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He adds that the profession must examine additional ways to encourage growth among unrepresented groups. “A key step is seeking out ways to create role models by promoting diversity in architectural leadership—at schools, in firms, on state licensing boards and through mentorship programs like the camp.”

Toward the end of the program, each student wrote a rap verse about his or her designs and community and how he or she hopes to build up the profession. NCARB’s data regarding the lack of diversity in architecture inspired a group whose track’s hook was “Build it up/2 percent.”

Armstrong hopes that the camp can help demystify the field as being stereotypically white and male. “While we may not see an immediate impact on diversity in the field, we hope the next generation of students will feel welcomed by the profession." 

How To Get Involved With Hip Hop Architecture Camp

Looking to bring the Hip Hop Architecture Camp to your city? Apply on the organization’s website to help capture the voices of underrepresented populations. It’s an engaging option for colleges, universities and businesses that are seeking to attract and retain prospective students and employees.

For those looking to attend a camp, the Hip Hop Architecture Camp is open to middle school and high school students. Participants must apply for the limited spaces available in each city due to overwhelming interest in each camp. Learn more at hiphoparchitecture.com.

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