More than 40 years after it emerged from South Bronx house parties, hip-hop has become a once-in-a-lifetime concussive force
From the jump, architecture inspired hip-hop. It’s poetry that bloomed in the shadows of housing projects, among the husks of burned-out high rises, and in view of subways tagged with a rainbow of graffiti.
But did the flow run the other way? Architects, academics, and artists like Nate Williams, Craig Wilkins,
Curated and designed by Cooke, the exhibition is organized around three primary characteristics: hip-hop identity, hip-hop process, and hip-hop image. Mounted on panels from a deconstructed shipping container hung on graffiti-covered walls are proposals, 3D-printed models, photographs, and art created by 21 practitioners, academics, and students from five countries. Taken, together, they make the case for an international mode of design that is at once mature and still in its infancy.
“[Hip-hop architecture] has been translating into real-world building in a deeper way than I originally realized,” Cooke tells Metropolis. “I think more people are likely to acknowledge and accept that hip-hop is a space that relates directly to architecture. But it’s going to take a lot more work and a lot more time for it to become part of the canon of architecture. It might have to create its own canon before that happens.”
Close to the Edge is that cannon fodder. Included in the show are requisite historical landmarks, such as Williams’ “This is my Nursery School,” a mixed-media collage that includes hip-hop lyrics scrawled over photographs of parking lots, billboards, and urban detritus. The work is drawn from her 1997 project There Are No Blank Sheets of Paper, considered one of the earliest examples of architectural thesis work to explicitly reference hip-hop.
Such pieces provide crucial context for the real-world (or soon-to-be built) examples of hip-hop architecture on view, like
The design grew out of 4RM+ULA founder James Garrett Jr.’s hip-hop obsession. He was drawn to architecture by his love of graffiti, and has written about and explored the nexus of hip-hop and architecture since college. “It was a cultural expression of who I was and what I was bringing to the architecture program,” Garrett says, and it eventually fueled his practice, from the low-budget/high-utility
“Hip-hop kids are trendsetters,” Garrett adds. “We’re out there first on the vanguard of what the newest best practices are in our profession. When you’re on the front edge of something, people aren’t necessarily ready for it, and there’s a rejection when people are uncomfortable.”
Even as Garrett and 4RM+ULA met resistance, hip-hop architecture—like hip-hop itself—veined out from the U.S. In Haarlem, Netherlands,
But ITN’s hip-hop reputation was forged by the controversial
Implicit in the criticism of The Hive is that Belling, a white architect, co-opted the spirit of hip-hop for the building—an assumption that speaks to a larger, existential question about appropriation and inclusion. In other words, who can practice in the hip-hop mode? The Hive “received quite a bit of negative response because people thought it was a little too on the nose, and I think the identity of the author was also being questioned,” Cooke says. “But I include it in the show just to open up that conversation. Because hip-hop architecture has yet to be ratified as a thing, it’s hard for us to say this is not it.”
At the same time, Cooke sees his scholarship (his next project is a book) as a way to give underrepresented communities an entry point into architecture. “The way that architecture is taught in schools is heavily dependent on a very Eurocentric, white, male point of view. So having alternative sources of information that actually speak to the people who are learning to produce architecture is very important.”
The confluence of hip-hop and architecture is ideally suited to accomplish that goal. At the opening of Close to the Edge, numerous visitors found themselves at the AIA center for the first time, attracted by the bizarre marriage of the two cultures. “It’s a bit more accessible when I hear ‘hip-hop architecture,’” Janay Anderson, one of those AIA newcomers, said. “I still need to do my research, but in general architecture’s not accessible to me. I think it can be in the right lens, and this seems like the proper lens to look at architecture.”
And in Belling’s case, it was hip-hop that helped inform his architecture. He has been immersed in Australia’s hip-hop scene for years, and it was his interactions with that community where he began to see the possibilities of bringing hip-hop into his projects. “I would have thought it impossible at the time that there could have been such a thing as a hip-hop architecture movement,” he says. “It was something I couldn’t even conceive of. So it’s very exciting that this has happened, that it has gathered this kind of momentum.”
Indeed, there was a sense at the opening of Close to the Edge that hip-hop architecture—for better or worse—is crossing over into mainstream awareness. Architectural historian and
Cooke said he would never have made such a comparison himself—but it’s one he absolutely had in mind when organizing the exhibition. “That was completely intentional,” Cooke said. “I hope it gets debated and lectured about and talked about heavily, and then experimented with and tested on a global scale. Then, hopefully, 10 or 20 years from now, we’ll look back and say, this is a moment where architects decided to take on a different direction.”