Of the 110,168 architects listed by NCARB, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, only 1.9 percent are black. With low minority representation across the board, the field of architecture has historically been a white man's profession. Thanks to designer Michael Ford, steps are now being made to change this statistic. Through his BRANDNU Design Group, the Detroit-bred designer has brought together a group of like-minded colleagues to assist him in organizing free, weeklong summer camps to educate and attract black kids to pursue careers in the field. Kicking off this year in Detroit, Atlanta, Austin, New York and Milwaukee, Ford's "Hip Hop Architecture" camps will provide a crash course to encourage students to express themselves through design.
Ford, who received his Masters of Architecture degree from the University of Detroit Mercy, has long been intrigued by the convergence of hip-hop and urban design. In fact, he centered his graduate thesis on the topic. "Hip-hop is the voice of the voiceless," he said in an interview with Cleveland.com. "It gives a story to people not commonly listened to, including people such as myself." It makes sense when you consider that hip-hop, which emerged from urban slums as a form of expression, has provided some of the most profound critiques of inner city life on record. Ford feels that with the right exposure and training, the same creativity that created the musical art form can be translated into the design of new buildings and city plans.
Ford believes that institutional biases are in part to blame for the low numbers of black people in the field of architecture. "History and theory courses [in architecture schools] usually focus on Europeans and their contributions and herald them or uplift them as the greatest thinkers in architecture," he said. "If you can imagine being an African-American student who goes through five or six years of college never seeing a face that looked like you, that could be pretty disheartening." Ford, who has a book coming out soon, hopes to help remove these barriers that have discouraged black children from becoming architects, city planners, and urban designers, through his writing, teaching and national speaking.
Through his, "Hip Hop Architecture" summer camps, underrepresented youth will be introduced to architecture and urban planning to create designs for the communities of the future.