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Close to the Edge: The Birth of Hip-Hop Architecture at the Center for Architecture

Art Scene

Close to the Edge: The Birth of Hip-Hop Architecture at the Center for Architecture

It is without question that the birth of hip-hop is inextricably linked to the architectural landscape of the Bronx. A response to social conditions unleashed a movement that has permeated global culture. When one begins to consider how urban design, political maneuvering, economics, and the resilience and creativity of everyday people contributed to the multidimensional art form known as hip-hop, architecture becomes an almost inevitable site of further investigation.

Exothermic, 2010, Boris “Delta” Tellegen

The exhibition, Close to the Edge: The Birth of Hip-Hop Architecture, at the Center for Architecture offers a fascinating look into the burgeoning field of hip-hop architecture, presenting an array of photographs, renderings, drawings, 3D models, and video footage of lectures, music videos and related content spanning several decades. The brainchild of Sekou Cooke of the Syracuse University School of Architecture, with graphic design by WeShouldDoItAll and graffiti by David CHINO Villorente, the exhibition is comprised of work, thoughts and ideas made by practitioners, academics and students. Each of the contributors to the project creates work that explores architectural form through the lens of hip-hop. The creative energy embedded in the branches of the culture—deejaying, emceeing, b-boying, and graffiti— as well as the parallel use of ideas, are poetically and scientifically explored in the work on view. One conceptual pairing explores ideas of sampling or reuse found in both hip-hop and an architecture that is built around the ubiquitous contemporary repurposing of shipping containers.

Exhibition installation view, Eric Barin

According to Cooke, the origins of this field of inquiry began in upstate New York at Cornell University in the early to mid 1990s, a period known as the golden era of hip-hop, under the innovative leadership of the Minority Affairs Advisor at the time, Dr. Ray Dalton. At that time, Cooke says, “We had an unusually high number of Black and Latino students in our program—enough for us to begin conversations about how hip-hop, already a heavy influence in our lives, could begin to influence the work we were doing in school.  Nate Williams is most famously the first to test these ideas in his 1992 undergraduate thesis project. That moment blew everyone’s minds—students and professors alike—and formed the basis of conversations for the next 10 years at Cornell Architecture.”

Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project, 2018, Lauren Halsey

Since those early days, interest in the topic branched off into disconnected arenas, with visionaries like Craig Wilkins and Mike Ford contributing to the credibility in academia and its broader popularity in the mainstream. Cooke, keeping a bird’s eye view on 25 years of conversations and efforts, saw his interests crystallize around 2013 when he first wrote about Kanye West’s rants on architecture. In 2016, Cooke gave a talk at the Center for Architecture, which sparked the organization’s interest in sharing insights and innovations in the field of hip-hop architecture with a broader audience. The exciting results found in the exhibition are not only fodder for hip-hop lovers, but also an extraordinary look at the integration of popular aesthetics into the evolutionary space of urban design; especially considering the United Nations’ projection that 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050.

Shanty Mega-Structures, 2015, Olalekan Jeyifous

Close to the Edge: The Birth of Hip-Hop Architecture is on view at the Center for Architecture through January 12, 2019.